Recapping Last Year
The 2014-15 season was one to remember for the South Carolina Gamecocks women's basketball team. The squad went 34-3 overall and 15-1 in the SEC, en route to a second straight conference title and a Final Four appearance. During the season, they went 8-2 against the Top 25, which included two victories over conference foe Tennessee (with the second one coming in the SEC Championship Game, a sound 62-46 win). Leading the team was then-junior guard Tiffany Mitchell, who won her second-straight SEC Player of the Year award during a season where she averaged over 14 points. Another major contributor, freshman A'ja Wilson, the first freshman in program history to earn All-American honors, appeared on the all-SEC third team and was named the SEC freshman of the year.
What's Stayed the Same
Although there will be some new faces and some old ones in new spots on the court this season, not everything has changed. To start, Mitchell is still the go-to player on this team. Although Wilson will make strides coming off an outstanding freshman campaign, she has yet to prove that she can be a number one option. As noted by a preseason All-America nod, Mitchell will be the top player on this squad and one of the best in the nation.
Going back to Wilson, she will still continue to score as well as help on the glass. Standing tall at 6'5" with the athleticism to lead a fast break and the moves to score in the post, she is still a matchup nightmare for any team playing South Carolina. Not to mention earning MVP honors at the FIBA U19 World Championships where she led Team USA to gold over the summer.
Also, with four upperclassmen in the projected starting five - including Mitchell, Khadijah Sessions, Asia Dozier, and Alaina Coates - the Gamecocks will continue to embody coach Dawn Staley's motto of a suffocating defense. Last year, opponents only shot 39.4% from the field. Don't expect that number to go up with all these multi-year contributors on the floor.
This year will be even better than last. Mitchell will continue to show her greatness and although she will eventually lose out on National Player of the Year awards to UConn's Breanna Stewart, she will finish in the top five of voting. Wilson will take the next step in her college career and will be a first team All-American after making an appearance on the third team at the end of her freshman campaign. As for the team, they will clinch the SEC regular season title but won't make it three conference championships in a row, as Tennessee will remember last year and will come out better than ever in the SEC tournament. The team will still manage to get a number one seed for the NCAAs due to an impressive regular season (including an opening night win over Ohio State) and reach a second straight Womens' Final Four. This year, however, the Gamecocks will make it one step farther and get to the National Championship Game. Just like in the player of the year awards, though, the Gamecocks won't be able to overcome the juggernaut that is UConn and Geno Auriemma will beat out Dawn Staley and South Carolina in Indianapolis.