South Carolina women return to court for exhibition game Friday

November 2, 2017 GMT

COLUMBIA — The first look at a team bidding for its second national championship comes tonight.

South Carolina, ranked fourth in the preseason AP top 25, is the defending champion, but nobody mentions that term in practice. Nobody talks about winning back-to-back titles, nobody talks about the 2017 title.

“It’s not the same team. We established that very early on, our first day of practice,” coach Dawn Staley said. “We’re just going to try and figure out what our identity will be with this year’s team.”

The Gamecocks will play their lone exhibition game against Coker — coached by former Gamecock Shannon Johnson — before beginning the season in a week. It’s a chance for Staley to see how her new players react under the lights, with fans in the stands, and also an opportunity to see just how much the team has embraced its new motto.

The national championship was a milestone for the school, the program and Staley, but it’s in the past. The first game since, even though it won’t count in the standings, is the best time to slip this team’s mental approach in gear.

“This team is really good at whatever we’re working on at one particular time. It’s how you get them to connect that to the next drill, the next day,” Staley said. “We just have to make our team extremely competitive, so when we start games it’s a staple of what we do.”

Expect to see former Kentucky star Alexis Jennings starting alongside All-American A’ja Wilson in the paint, as Jennings was here for the championship run but didn’t play. Point guard Ty Harris will likely have another point guard, Bianca Cuevas-Moore, on the floor alongside her.

The fifth starter? There are a lot of options. Doniyah Cliney has played extremely well and is the kind of everyday player the Gamecocks need. Lindsey Spann is a fifth-year guard from Penn State. Freshmen Lele Grissett, LaDazhia Williams and Bianca Jackson are here and sophomore Mikiah Herbert Harrigan played a vital role last year.

• Staley said earlier this week that the planned waiver for guard Te’a Cooper’s eligibility will not be sent until December. Cooper was supposed to miss the season after transferring from Tennessee.

Staley said at SEC Media Days that she planned to ask the NCAA to clear Cooper for this year, since Cooper also missed last season due to a knee injury. She said the delay until December was USC’s idea because it will give Cooper time to get used to Columbia, school and her new team.