After completing the regular season 29-1 and a perfect 16-0 in SEC play, the South Carolina Gamecocks cleaned house on the SEC awards, and rightfully so.
Freshman Aliyah Boston was named SEC Freshman of the Year and Defensive POTY along with SEC All Freshman Team, All Defensive Team, and All-SEC First Team.
The Fabulous Freshman swept every award she was nominated for and Seniors Tyasha Harris and Mikiah Herbert-Harrigan were named All SEC first and second Team as well.
Even freshman Zia Cooke got in on the award action, earning a spot on the All-Freshman Team.
You’re talking about four of the five starters for USC this year being named the best in the SEC at what they do.
Coach Staley capped off the list of honors with her fourth SEC Coach of the Year award, her fourth in the last decade and first since 2016.
You’d be hard pressed to find anyone more deserving of the award if the SEC handed out a Coach of the Decade trophy, as Coach Staley’s body of work from 2010-2020 has been nothing short of amazing.
With all this recognition, it’s safe to say that South Carolina is the best team in the entire SEC and most likely the whole country, but there’s still a little more work to do.
No one is just gonna hand the trophy to us and so there are games to be played.
Starting with this week’s SEC Tournament “hosted” by South Carolina in Greenville at Bon Secours Wellness Arena.
As the #1 overall seed, the Gamecocks will not have to play till Friday morning at noon when they will get the winner of UGA/Bama.
If educated guesses were to be made, it would be a safe bet that the Gamecocks will take on the Crimson Tide Friday morning.
Alabama (18-11, 8-8) currently sits in Charlie Creme’s first four out and will be desperate to get into the postseason.
This combined with the fact that they have gotten hot at the right time, winning six of their last eight including two wins over #9 Mississippi State and #12 Texas A&M, both on the road, make the Crimson Tide the perfect candidate for this year’s SEC tournament Cinderella story.
They will most likely make quick work of the Bulldogs and be on to face South Carolina.
Alabama will surely be a tough opponent, as they scored the third most points against SC in SEC play at 78, behind only Arkansas and Mississippi State.
In their first meeting the Gamecocks took a 93-78 win at Tuscaloosa, but this team will be much more dangerous than the one they faced in January.
Junior Jasmine Walker has hit her stride and become a player to watch out for, as she has scored an average of 20.3 PPG against ranked opponents in their last 8 games.
The Gamecocks held her to 13 points in their only meeting this season, but I expect her to be the centerpiece of Alabama’s offense this game.
If the Gamecocks can play solid defense like they have all season and contain Walker to 15 points or less, South Carolina will move on to the semis.
They say the third times the charm but in South Carolina’s case, the Gamecocks will hope that to be false as Saturday night’s semifinal match up will most likely put SC squaring off with the Razorbacks of Arkansas for the third time this season.
The Gamecocks have won both previous matchups against the Razorbacks, but will still be looking for something to prove, as it was Arkansas on this court last year who took away the Gamecock’s chance at a historical 5-peat in the SEC Tournament.
South Carolina’s seniors will undoubtedly make sure the freshman understand the importance and relevance of this game as the seniors will want to make things right and set the record straight.
Coach Staley’s squad has beaten the Razorbacks by an average of 15 points per game this season and will look for another strong performance as they will need to once again contain Chelsea Dungee and her prolific scoring.
Dungee has only been able to collect 15 PPG against the Gamecocks this year in both losses as this seems to be the formula that Coach Staley has figured out to beat Arkansas.
Contain Dungee and keep her at 15 points or under, and make the rest of the team beat you.
So far that strategy has worked, as Arkansas has not been able muster up offense outside of her to keep them in the game very long.
South Carolina’s bigs on the inside will once again dominate Arkansas, as they have out rebounded Arkansas by an average of 26 per game.
The Razorbacks have had no answer for Boston and if that trend continues, the Gamecock’s ticket to the SEC Final will be as good as punched.
The SEC Final Sunday at 2:00 will be one that will be very familiar to Gamecock fans.
Sunday’s game should be a second matchup this season for the Gamecocks and the Bulldogs of Mississippi State and the fourth meeting of the two schools in the final since 2016.
In their only meeting this season, SC was tested, as the Gamecocks would protect home court and escape Vic Schaefer’s Bulldogs with a two point 81-79 victory.
Had it not been for the valiant and amazing effort of freshman Zia Cooke, it’s hard to say if the Gamecocks would’ve stayed undefeated in the SEC after that day.
The Bulldogs will be looking to collect their second ever and second straight tournament title against South Carolina, while the Gamecocks will be looking for their fifth in six years.
This game is sure to be another strenuous nail biter, as the Bulldogs will be looking to prove something and the Gamecocks will be looking to finish 19-0 in the SEC for the second season in school history and lock up the number one overall seed in the NCAA tournament.
To avoid the pitfalls that nearly doomed them last time, the Gamecocks will have to be able to hold off Miss State’s runs and keep their leads.
The Gamecocks held a nine point lead after the first quarter, but a Bulldogs run brought it to one at half time.
By the end of the third quarter, State had a three point lead.
USC was able to rally from nine down in the fourth to take the two point win, but the Gamecocks can not afford to play with fire like that again.
Dawn Staley’s squad is gonna have to come out strong and build a big lead in the first like they have done all season and hold it.
They cannot allow the Bulldogs back in the game or allow them to close the gap again, as Vic Schaefer is sure to have his girls mentally ready to play and play hard.
If South Carolina can own the boards as they usually do and keep the Bulldogs at arms reach from making it a game then by the fourth, the lead should be easier to hang onto.
This is sure to be a four quarter game but the Gamecocks have the intangibles to come out on top in Greenville.
At the end of the day, this is a five day tournament and anything can happen.
Upsets could ruin my bracket and make my picks look foolish, but if there’s one team in the field that can avoid the upsets and hold tight to bring it all home, it’s Dawn Staley’s Gamecocks.
They’re the smart bet and the safe bet.
Coach Staley’s squad will head into Greenville looking for their tenth SEC title in the last seven years and to continue their dominance over the SEC, and I’m not sure anyone can stop them.
I expect a few close games and ones that’ll make your heart race.
However, at the end of the day, South Carolina is the number one team in the country for a reason.
This tournament in Greenville is South Carolina’s to lose. The ball is in their court and it’s up to them to avoid the hype.