Coates, Wilson prepping for bigger roles with South Carolina
COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) A'ja Wilson and Alaina Coates were South Carolina's high-scoring duo off the bench in the women's team's first-ever Final Four season. Now, both are preparing to make an even bigger impact on the Gamecocks next season, this time as starters.
The 6-foot-5 Wilson and 6-4 Coates were the second and third leading scorers for South Carolina, which won a second straight Southeastern Conference title and won a school-record 34 games before losing to Notre Dame in the national semifinals last month.
The two are ready for larger roles next season in chasing a national championship.
''It's something that we have and we just have to put into the system,'' Wilson said Tuesday. ''And that's what we're going to do.''
Wilson and Coates were front and center for South Carolina, even if they were rarely in the starting lineup. Wilson, who came in as the country's top college prospect, made only one start early in the season. Coates, who won a share of the SEC 6th player of the year as a freshman in 2014, started five games as a sophomore.
Coach Dawn Staley went with five juniors or seniors in the starting lineup and called on her bench to wear out opponents and break open close games. While the strategy worked, it came under pressure as the season went on.
Better opponents locked down on South Carolina's less productive starters to open early leads. At the NCAA's Greensboro Regional, the Gamecocks fell behind North Carolina and Florida State by double digits before rallying to victory each time.
South Carolina trailed Final Four opponent Notre Dame by 12 points in the second half and could not dig its way back in a 66-65 loss.
Staley has said she needs more consistent scoring earlier in games. Wilson and Coates are more than willing to provide it.
Wilson earned SEC freshman of the year honors, averaging 13.1 points and 6.6 rebounds and leading the Gamecocks with 65 blocks. Coates was a second-team all-SEC pick with 11 points and 7.9 rebounds a game.
''We played the role we were asked and that worked out great,'' Coates said.
Coates said no one's role for next season has been determined. She's confident, though, she can thrive as the starting center or power forward next fall.
''Regardless of what's going on, I'll be prepared,'' Coates said.
Wilson and Coates take another step in that direction this week. The two post players along with teammate, two-time SEC player of the year Tiffany Mitchell, are off to Colorado Springs, Colorado for tryout camps for national teams.
Wilson, the MVP of the U18 FIBA Americas tournament last summer, is expected to make the U.S. team competing for the U19 World Championships. Coates and Mitchell are looking to make the 12-member American squads competing in the Pan American Games and the World University Games.
Wilson and Coates believe the trials will keep them sharp and focused on basketball. Should they make U.S. teams, they'll use the experience to jump start another strong South Carolina season.
''I know that I'm one of many major contributors to this team and I'm going to have to continue to do what I do in order for this team to win,'' Coates said.