WBB: South Carolina hosts Anderson

Ieasia Walker

The start of the 2012-13 basketball season is a little less than a week away, but the South Carolina women's basketball team will host Anderson Sunday afternoon in an exhibition that is free to the public. Dawn Staley's team brings a combination of experience and youth coming off a 25-win season.

Who: Anderson Trojans vs. South Carolina Gamecocks (Exhibition)
When: 3:00 p.m. Sunday
Where: Colonial Life Arena, Columbia
TV: None
Radio: None
Live video: GamecocksOnline.com

Expectations are as high this season as they have been in quite some time for the South Carolina women's basketball team. Carolina is coming off of a 25-win season and appearance in the Sweet 16 for the first time in the Dawn Staley era and has signed a solid recruiting class that includes two instate players in Asia Dozier and Khadijah Sessions.

"I'm feeling pretty good," head coach Dawn Staley said. "I think our players a little bit more comfortable with how we need to play, especially on the defensive end. The offense I think is the last thing to come, but they had a pretty good week trying to do things that will not put as much pressure on our defense, which is scoring the ball."

Carolina was picked to finish seventh in the SEC this season after losing some key players to graduation from the Sweet 16 team. Markeshia Grant and La'Keisha Sutton, the only two to average double figure scoring, have both graduated. Charenee Stephens, who was second on the team in rebounding, graduated as well as has the versatile defender in Courtney Newton. Newton was often asked to players that she gave up several inches in height and did well. It is those losses that has some national pundits wondering what this team is capable of in a conference that has added national power Texas A&M.

"Every year takes on a life of its own," Staley said. "For us we have a lot of young kids. We don't want to make them feel like we live and die by their performance. Our experienced players have to play, and if they play well it starts becoming contagious."

Ieasia Walker, who took a backseat to Grant and Sutton last season after averaging 12 points per game the previous year, will be expected to carry the load on the perimeter. Though she only averaged seven points per game last season, Walker led the team in steals with 63 and led all guards in blocks with 19. Walker, a preseason second team All-SEC, and Sancheon White are the only two available guards with playing experience as Tina Roy is currently out after suffering a knee injury.

Forward Ashley Bruner will be asked to improve on her scoring from last season as she will certainly see increased minutes. Bruner averaged just over seven points per game, but is one of the most polished, complete players in the conference. Aleighsa Welch is primed to have a breakout season after a solid freshman campaign in which she led the team in rebounds and scored just over 7.5 points per game, which landed her a spot on the SEC-All Freshman team.

Those three are unquestionably going to be starters for most or all of the season. The question will be who joins them on the court at the other two spots. Roy would clearly be a starter if she weren't injured, so White will join Walker in the backcourt as the fourth starter and Elem Ibiam will start at center.

"We have a line-up that we feel real good about," Staley said. "Depending on how (Saturday) goes I think we will go with our more experienced team."

Staley signed a quartet of guards that will all challenge for playing time. Sessions was the highest rated player in the class as the seventh-ranked point guard in the country. Tiffany Davis out of Texas is the 31st-ranked point guard. North Carolina native Tiffany Mitchell is the 15th-ranked guard and Dozier is 33rd at guard.

"We're probably further along than we were even with the experienced team we had last year," Staley said. "I don't know what it is, but we're pretty good. We're able to put in so much stuff. We've probably got at least 20 plays and all of our defenses in besides maybe one. I don't know if we're good at them, but they're in."

Sunday will be an opportunity for some of the younger players to get their feet wet in the exhibition against Anderson. Teams are usually fairly vanilla in what they do in exhibitions and give young players an opportunity to get some experience without the added pressure of a regular season game.

Whether this team is capable of reaching the high expectations set by last year's team or possibly exceed those levels remains to be seen, but Staley finally has a balanced roster with size inside and skill on the outside.

Projected starting line-up

G – Ieasia Walker – 5-8 Sr
G – Sancheon White 5-10 Sr
F – Ashley Bruner – 6-0 Sr
F – Aleighsa Welch – 6-0 So
F – Elem Ibiam – 6-3 So

Remaining players

G – Shelbretta Ball – 5-8 So (medically ineligible)
G – Khadijah Sessasion – 5-8 Fr
G – Tiffany Mitchell – 5-9 Fr
G – Tiffany Davis – 5-7 Fr
G – Asia Dozier – 5-10 Fr
G – Tina Roy – 5-11 So
C – Wilka Montout – 6-3 Jr

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