COLUMBIA, S.C. — South Carolina is changing its approach this season, turning to its deep group of guards to keep the four-time Southeastern Conference tournament champions on top.

Coach Dawn Staley led the team to a national title in 2017, largely with a run of players like Alaina Coates and last year’s consensus national player of the year A’ja Wilson.

But with the 6-5 Wilson excelling as a WNBA rookie in Las Vegas, Staley’s most experienced and talented players start in the backcourt.

 

“We’ll look a little different,” Staley said. “But, hopefully, we’ll have the same results.”

There is no natural successor to Wilson, the dynamic All-American who set the school’s career scoring mark. So Staley is counting on experienced guard play from returning veterans like Tyasha Harris and Bianca Cuevas-Moore and first-year transfers like Te’a Cooper from Tennessee and Nelly Perry from Clemson.

Opponents will likely see three guards in the lineup much of the time next season. Staley, a former point guard who led the United States to three Olympic gold medals, has toyed with four-guard lineups to take advantage of what she believes is the team’s improved quickness.

“We have a lot of options,” Staley said. “We can go positional with three guards, we can go small with four guards.”

Harris was a freshman starter at the point for the national champions; she then led the SEC in assists as a sophomore.

She will be challenged this year at the position by Cooper and Cuevas-Moore.

Cooper made the SEC all-freshman team two years ago with the Lady Vols and is eligible to play this fall after missing 2016-17 with injury. She sat out last year after joining the Gamecocks due to NCAA guidelines.

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