COLUMBIA — South Carolina coach Dawn Staley hopes the 19th-ranked Gamecocks’ offense finally shifts out of neutral and starts moving forward in the Southeastern Conference.
The team’s struggling attack is next-to-last in the 14-team SEC and the main reason the team’s dropped all three of its showdowns with ranked opponents this season, including losses to No. 9 Tennessee and No. 13 Georgia in league play.
South Carolina shot just 21 percent in the second half as the Lady Vols pulled away for 73-53 victory two weeks ago. This past Sunday, the Gamecocks got only one field goal in the last 13 minutes of a 42-40 defeat at Georgia.
Staley expected some scoreless stretches with more than half her roster made up of underclassmen.
“I think there are droughts all over the place, not just with our youngsters,” she said. “We’ve got to find a way to put the ball in the hole.”
The Gamecocks (14-3, 2-2 SEC) return to action Thursday night at home against LSU in the school’s old arena, the Carolina Coliseum. Neither the men’s or women’s basketball teams have held a game in their former home since the larger, 18,000-seat Colonial Life Arena came on line in November 2002.
Part of South Carolina’s problem is it’s not an accomplished squad that can run set plays and succeed. For the Gamecocks to win, Staley says, they have to score on the go.
Staley has turned up the tempo at practice to get the Gamecocks running and gunning.
“As coaches, we’ve got to kind of swallow hard and allow them to take some unexpected shots and shots that are uncharacteristic of us,” Staley said.
The Gamecocks have never been an offensive powerhouse in Staley’s five seasons. They were eighth in league scoring a season ago at 61 points a game – the same total they’re at now.
Staley expected to take a step forward after last year’s breakthrough, 25-10 season that ended with a run to the NCAA tournament’s round of 16. But the Gamecocks lost more than a third of last year’s scoring punch with seniors Markeshia Grant and La’Keisha Sutton and a talented freshmen class has yet to find the same scoring touch.
The Gamecocks have improved defensively, holding opponents to an SEC best 47 points a game this season – four points better than in 2011-12.
Staley was a tenacious player in college, the pros and the Olympics who excelled on both ends of the court. She said her players gave their all at Georgia only to come up short because of a few bad shots or an SEC-high of 24 turnovers.
“We just got to fix it as coaches,” Staley said. “We’ve just got to put our kids in position where they can score and reap the benefits of playing so hard.”
The Gamecocks defense nearly pulled off the program’s biggest ever upset last month before falling to then-No. 1 Stanford, 53-49. Staley feels the team’s defense gives them a chance in each game. The offense, she believes, will follow.
South Carolina guard Ieasia Walker said while LSU isn’t ranked, it’s critical to get back on track and remain near the top of the SEC.
“It’s real important to get our offense flowing,” Walker said. “We’ve been kind of stagnant and we can go awhile with scoring droughts. We’ve got to be prepared for the types of zones they’re going to throw at us.”
Maybe the old Carolina Coliseum can help. The building is far more intimate – 12,000 seats steeply angled high above floor – than the Gamecocks current, cavernous home with seats much closer to the floor.
South Carolina freshman Asia Dozier told Staley the old arena was fun to shoot in.
“So knock on wood, it’d be a great time for her to get her shot going,” the coach said.