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GAMECOCK WOMEN’S BASKETBALL

USC WOMEN'S BASKETBALL: SEC coaches pick Gamecocks to win title

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COLUMBIA -- AP Preseason No. 1 South Carolina was picked by SEC coaches to win the 2022 Southeastern Conference women's basketball title, the league office released Tuesday.

It marks the sixth time in the last eight seasons the coaches have predicted the Gamecocks as regular-season champion. The coaches tapped juniors Aliyah Boston and Zia Cooke for Preseason All-SEC First-Team honors, and senior Destanni Henderson earned a spot on the Preseason All-SEC Second Team.

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.

Staley's 16-woman roster features five seniors with at least three years in the program and five juniors among the full 11-player roster from last season's NCAA Final squad returning to the Garnet and Black. Boston, Cooke and Henderson grabbed league recognition, but the Gamecocks are three-deep at every position and feature 10 former McDonald's All-Americans. The 2021 postseason saw senior Victaria Saxton and Laeticia Amihere grab spots on the NCAA Hemisfair Region All-Tournament Team. Among the five newcomers are the reigning ACC Freshman and Defensive Player of the Year Kamilla Cardoso, Naismith High School Player of the Year Raven Johnson, USA Today High School National Player of the Year Saniya Rivers, Naismith High School First-Team All-American Sania Feagin and Ohio Miss Basketball Bree Hall.

After claiming National Player of the Year honors from The Athletic last season, Boston is back for her third season as a Gamecock. The two-time Lisa Leslie Award winner averages a career double-double overall (13.1 ppg, 10.4 rpg), in SEC games (13.2 ppg, 11.3 rpg) and in 28 games against ranked opponents (13.7 ppg, 11.5 rpg). A unanimous First-Team All-American and the only player named a finalist for both the Naismith Trophy and Naismith Defensive Player of the Year last season, she was 13th in the NCAA in rebounding average (11.5), 18th in blocks per game (2.6) and fifth in double-doubles (17). Boston already ranks eighth in program history in career double-doubles (30) and fifth in blocked shots (167). Her 16 career double-doubles in SEC play are third-best in program history.

Cooke capped a solid sophomore season with NCAA Hemisfair Region Most Outstanding Player honors and earning a spot on the Final Four All-Tournament Team. She was an honorable mention All-American and a first-team All-SEC selection after leading the team and ranking 12th in the SEC in scoring (15.9 ppg). She scored in double figures in 27 of the team's 31 games, including six 20-point outings, highlighted a sterling 25-point outing in the Final Four that included 5-of-8 shooting from 3-point range.

Named to the watch list for the Nancy Lieberman Point Guard Award earlier this week, Henderson led the SEC and ranked 36th in the nation in assists per game last season (5.1), a number that went up to 5.6 per game in SEC action. The floor general also ranked third on the team in scoring at a career-high 12.2 points per game. Her 22 double-digit scoring games included two 20-point outings and her first career double-double with 14 points and 10 assists against No. 15/16 Arkansas on Jan. 18, 2021. She handed out five our more assists 17 times in 31 games and finished the season with a 1.78 assist-to-turnover ratio, which ranks eighth in program history.

The 2021-22 Gamecocks officially open the season on the road at AP Preseason No. 5 NC State on Tue., Nov. 9, on ESPN. South Carolina's first home game is set for Wed., Nov. 17, against in-state rival Clemson.

2022 SEC Preseason Coaches Poll

1. South Carolina

2. Texas A&M

3. Tennessee

4. Georgia

5. Kentucky

6. Ole Miss

7. Arkansas

8. LSU

9. Mississippi State

10. Missouri

11. Florida

12. Alabama

13. Auburn

14. Vanderbilt

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