You can’t always get what you want, but if you try sometimes you just might find you get what you need.
(Word to the Rolling Stones.)
South Carolina Gamecocks women’s basketball head coach Dawn Staley seemed to have a clear vision before the 2018-19 season began: the anointment of senior Alexis Jennings and junior Tyasha Harris as the faces of the team, as well as team captains.
In theory, it made sense: Harris and Jennings were an integral part of the 2017 NCAA national championship team, along with current teammate Bianca Cuevas-Moore. They would bring their overall experience in general and their postseason experience specifically to a roster that was filled with new faces who were still getting used to the Gamecocks/Staley way.
In reality? Weeeeeeellll...not so much.
Jennings reverted back to her streaky ways. As usual, when she was on, she was on. When she wasn’t (especially when she battled through injury), the team suffered due to the inconsistency.
Harris? Being one of the faces of the team turned out not to be her jelly or her jam. Sometimes on the court she looked a bit discombobulated and not like the floor general with laser-precise floor vision that fans have come to know and love, and opponents have come to respect.
Between injuries and lack of leadership, the early part of the season (mostly non-conference play) saw the Gamecocks looking nowhere near a championship contender at the SEC level, let alone the NCAA. Staley, though frustrated, preached patience and gratitude for those fans who continued to ride or die despite the uneven play by the newly constituted Gamecocks.
Then order (of sorts) rose from chaos.
Mikiah Herbert Harrigan (#HerbertHarrigang) started to show up and show out.
Te’a Cooper (#SweetTs) continued to unleash unholy haven’t-played-in-two-years havoc on unsuspecting foes.
Jennings (#35HIve) got healthy (and more consistent).
So did Cuevas-Moore (#BusyBs)
And Harris (#52SmooveCrew) showed that she’s at her best by being the power behind the throne instead of on the throne. She’s averaging 4.6 assists over the last six games (and since the beginning of SEC play with a win over Texas A&M) and has started to heat up from 3-point range.
Indeed, it’s looking like leadership by committee is suiting this year’s Gamecocks the best. Granted, there will be an embarrassment of alpha-dog riches come the 2019-20 season when Zia Cooke, Brea Beal, Aliyah Boston, and Olivia Thompson join Laeticia Amihere on campus.
Amihere unfortunately had a season-ending injury for her high school career and started her college career early by enrolling at the University of South Carolina for the spring semester, though she will not play until next season.
She was actually sitting on the bench during the Gamecocks’s win over Missouri on “We Back Pat” night.
In the meantime, the point guard tandem of Harris and Cooper seems to work rather well overall.
Harris is the sound and Cooper is the fury; Harris’s more cerebral approach sets up Cooper’s more physical approach in a way that is hard to anticipate, let alone guard. And they both have the speed to make life difficult for opponents.
A 6-0 #Gamecocks run forces a Missouri timeout! 9-3 with 5:35 to go in the first! @TyHarris_52 with the steal and @TeaCooper2 with the finish on the other end has @CLAmktg rockin'! pic.twitter.com/B2TnYDPjfj— GamecockWBB (@GamecockWBB) January 22, 2019
It helps that Cooper used to run the point at Tennessee and in high school, which helps relieve some of Harris’s burden.
Cuevas-Moore operates best as a solo artist; just give her the ball and let her do her thing. Coming back from her injury has released the mental shackles and she is playing with a newfound passion in her final season of eligibility (Cuevas-Moore graduated from South Carolina in May, along with Jennings). She also helps spell Harris (and Cooper) when they need breathers. Getting out of her funk couldn’t come at a better time, as the team is mainly playing SEC conference teams from now until the NCAA tournament in April.
While the recent loss to Mississippi State still stings, and the losses to top-ten teams such as Baylor can give fans pause (but really: what can you do against Mississippi State’s Teaira McCowan and Baylor’s Kalani Brown except pray?), the South Carolina Gamecocks are finding their groove at the right time. The leadership group of Harris, Cooper, Jennings, Cuevas-Moore, and Herbert Harrigan may be just the thing to pull the Gamecocks through the punishing gauntlet of the upcoming SEC and NCAA tournaments. All is not lost; in fact, it’s just beginning.
Thanks for stopping by.