COLUMBIA, S.C. - For the fifth time in seven seasons and the first time since the 2017-18 season, Southeastern Conference women’s basketball coaches have predicted South Carolina to win the SEC regular-season championship, the conference announced today. The group tapped Aliyah Boston for Preseason All-SEC First-Team honors and Zia Cooke with second-team recognition.
South Carolina has won five SEC regular-season championships since claiming its first in 2013-14. The Gamecocks won the 2019-20 SEC Regular-Season crown after posting their second 16-0 league record, ending a two-year stretch of second-place finishes. Head coach Dawn Staley’s team has not finished lower than second since the 2012-13 campaign.
For 2020-21, Staley returns three of five starters who led the Gamecocks to their first final No. 1 national ranking in program history. The trio of then-freshmen - Boston, Cooke and Brea Beal - started all 33 games of the season and made their mark on the college women’s basketball landscape immediately. This season, another member of that 2019 No. 1 recruiting class is ready to break out as Laeticia Amihere is fully recovered from a knee injury that slowed her early development. Senior LeLe Grissett is back as a veteran guard after transitioning to that spot last season, and juniors Destanni Henderson and Victaria Saxton are anxious to show their value with extended playing time.
Drawing some votes for SEC Preseason Player of the Year, Boston has also collected preseason recognition as a unanimous selection on the AP All-America Team and member of the Lisa Leslie Award and Naismith Trophy watch lists. She was the 2020 SEC Defensive Player of the Year and Freshman of the Year ahead of being named unanimous National Freshman of the Year. As a freshman, she averaged a double-double in SEC play (13.1 ppg/10.3 rpg) and posted seven double-doubles in 16 league games.
Cooke was part of the 2020 SEC All-Freshman Team and an honorable mention on the 2020 Her Hoop Stats Fab 15 Freshmen. She opened the 2020-21 preseason by earning a spot on the watch list for the Ann Meyers Drysdale Award, which recognizes the top shooting guard in the country, and for the Naismith Trophy. As a freshman, Cooke led the team with 13.8 points per SEC game, shooting 43.0 percent from the field, including 38.7 percent from 3-point range. She scored in double figures in 24 of 33 games played on the season, including five 20-point games, and shot 35.7 percent from 3-point range.
The Gamecocks are slated to open the 2020-21 season on Wed., Nov. 25, at Colonial Life Arena against College Charleston. With COVID-19 regulations limiting capacity at Colonial Life Arena to 3,500, South Carolina has already sold out of tickets for the season, but plenty of opportunities for fans to engage with the team and participate in game day remain.
Fans can join the G-Hive, which this season includes access to live video streams of practice periodically throughout the regular season in addition to three theme-based t-shirts and a facial covering and a 2021 calendar, for $100. Game-day opportunities include purchasing a cutout to sit in a seat at Colonial Life Arena, participating in a Virtual Sellout or supporting the team from home with a Basketball Watch Party Pack, which includes a rally towel, 3-point cards and an exclusive link to watch the team’s intro video. Fans can also purchase a message to be shown on the videoboard at Colonial Life Arena.
2021 SEC Preseason Coaches Poll
1. South Carolina
3. Texas A&M
5. Mississippi State
11. Ole Miss
2021 Preseason Player of the Year Voting
Rhyne Howard, Kentucky
2021 Preseason All-SEC First Team
Chelsea Dungee, Arkansas
Unique Thompson, Auburn
Rhyne Howard, Kentucky
Khayla Pointer, LSU
Rickea Jackson, Mississippi State
Aliyah Boston, South Carolina
Rennia Davis, Tennessee
N’dea Jones, Texas A&M
2021 Preseason All-SEC Second Team
Jasmine Walker, Alabama
Destiny Slocumb, Arkansas
Lavendar Briggs, Florida
Shakira Austin, Ole Miss
Jessika Carter, Mississippi State
Aijha Blackwell, Missouri
Zia Cooke, South Carolina