Start time: 7 p.m.
TV: SEC Network+
Live Stream: WatchESPN.com
Radio: 1320 AM (Columbia)
Coming off an incredible season capped by the program’s first national championship, the No. 4-ranked South Carolina women open their title defense at home tonight against Alabama State.
Much like the men’s team, the Gamecocks have some shoes to fill, and new faces in the lineup. Forward Alaina Coates (four-time SEC first-team selection, conference leader in field goal percentage last season, No. 2 overall WNBA draft pick) and guards Kaela Davis (12.7 points per game, NCAA Stockon Region Most Outstanding Player) and Allisha Gray (13.2 ppg, NCAA All-Tournament team) are now in the WNBA. Fortunately, the return of senior forward A’ja Wilson — the reigning SEC Player of the Year and ESPNw’s preseason Player of the Year, among many, many other accolades — makes those losses easier to bear, as well as veteran guard and defensive dynamo Bianca Cuevas-Moore. Sophomore guard Ty Harris, an All-SEC Freshman selection last season, should also move into a larger role for the Gamecocks.
South Carolina has benefited tremendously from transfers in recent seasons, most notably with Davis and Gray, and the Gamecocks will look to continue that trend with a few more. Kentucky transfer Alexis Jennings should provide some scoring punch and rebounding (10 ppg, 7.1 rpg), as well as Penn State grad transfer Lindsey Spann, known as a sharp outside shooter (10.5 ppg) who hit seven 3-pointers in the Gamecocks’ exhibition against Coker. There’s also sophomore guard Te’a Cooper, a Tennessee transfer whose eligibility status is currently up in the air. She will miss at least the first half of the season, but South Carolina plans to submit a waiver in an effort to get her available for conference play. With the Lady Vols, she averaged 8.6 points per game and 2.1 assists.
Incoming freshmen Elisia Grissett, Bianca Jackson, LaDazhia Williams and Haley Troup made up a decorated recruiting class ranked in the top 10 nationally. Forwards Grissett, Jackson, and Williams are each former five-star prospects. With an embarrassment of riches despite some big personnel losses, South Carolina looks primed for another deep NCAA Tournament run. The conference slate will provide some stiff challenges, with national runner-up Mississippi State, Tennessee and Texas A&M looming. But the Feb. 1 tilt against UConn will, as always, be the ultimate test.
As for Alabama State, the Lady Hornets went 14-16 last season but 12-6 in the SWAC, good for a third-place finish in the conference. ASU is led by junior center Tatyana Calhoun, a preseason All-SWAC selection who averaged 4.9 points and 4 rebounds per game. The Lady Hornets are coached by Freda Freeman-Jackson, the mother of South Carolina freshman Bianca Jackson.