Bench play key to South Carolina’s success

South Carolina head coach Dawn Staley, left, talks with forward Aliyah Boston (4) during the...
South Carolina head coach Dawn Staley, left, talks with forward Aliyah Boston (4) during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game against Auburn, Thursday, Feb. 9, 2023, in Auburn, Ala. (AP Photo/Butch Dill)(Butch Dill | AP)
Published: Mar. 24, 2023 at 9:37 PM EDT
Email This Link
Share on Pinterest
Share on LinkedIn

GREENVILLE, S.C. (AP) — South Carolina certainly has front-line, championship talent with All-American Aliyah Boston and top scorer Zia Cooke. And they’re backed by a bench that’s second-to-none in the women’s game.

“It’s not just the starting five that can make things happen,” Cooke said.

The Gamecocks’ reserves lead the nation in bench points at 36.6 per game. Kamilla Cardoso, the 6-foot-7 SEC sixth woman of the year, is third on the team in scoring with an average of 9.7 points without starting once.

Laeticia Amihere, part of the heralded recruiting class four years ago with starters Boston, Cooke and Brea Beal, is fourth in scoring at 7.3 points in 16.3 minutes per game — also without a start.

Reserve point guard Raven Johnson leads with 116 assists and 37 steals in limited action.

“It’s always like, ‘Oh, we’re coming off the bench,’” Gamecocks sophomore Bree Hall said. “No, that’s not how we think. We go out there, and we think, ‘Let’s go out there and go hard and bring whatever we can to the table.’”

The Gamecocks (34-0) continue their chase of an undefeated season and second straight national championship at the Greenville 1 Regional, about 90 minutes from campus. South Carolina, which has won 40 straight games, takes on fourth-seeded UCLA (27-9) on Saturday.

Second-seeded Maryland (27-6) faces No. 3 seed Notre Dame (27-5) in the other regional semifinal contest. The winners play Monday night for a trip to the Final Four in Dallas.

Much of this four-team pod relies on its benches.

UCLA is 37th nationally with its reserves scoring 23.5 points per game. Maryland is 46th in the country at 22.9 points from its bench players, and Notre Dame is 112th at 19.5 points from backups.

UCLA coach Cori Close said championship programs are built on the loyalty and sacrifice of talented players accepting a lesser role.

“Credit to the commitment of those kids that would be starting and getting lots of minutes on a lot of other rosters,” she said.

The Gamecocks roster features nine McDonald’s All-Americans, six who come off the bench. The talent-rich team leads the nation with 30.6-point margin of victory this season.

Boston has averaged 25 minutes a game this season, fewer than the past two seasons. Having skilled backups has given her more rest time and left her fresher for finishes, if necessary.

“They come in and they dominate, which is really good,” she said.