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FutureStarrSouth Carolina PG Kierra Fletcher Out For SEC Title Game
Kierra Fletcher will miss South Carolina's SEC title game against Tennessee on Sunday after injuring her ankle during Saturday's semifinal victory against Ole Miss. Head coach Dawn Staley stated that Fletcher will receive further evaluation.
Fletcher will be replaced by Raven Johnson, who made an impactful play in the third quarter against Ole Miss. Staley hopes to keep this dynamic duo together going forward.
South Carolina point guard Kierra Fletcher, who started 29 games this season, was not in the lineup for Sunday's SEC title game against Tennessee due to an injury suffered early in their semifinal win against Mississippi on Saturday. She needed assistance leaving the court and it was announced that Fletcher would miss Sunday's title matchup against Tennessee in Greenville due to her left ankle issue.
Fletcher was absent, yet South Carolina still managed to win its second SEC regular-season title in a row. The top-ranked Gamecocks (28-0, 15-0 SEC) made up for a slow start by scoring 19 points in the opening quarter and outscoring Tennessee 60-54 en route to an easy 73-60 triumph.
Staley has kept the Gamecocks' performance unwavering over the last three seasons, unlike other teams in the SEC. She compiled an impressive 172-80 record during her tenure, including six 20-win seasons. As a result, Staley earned recognition from both 2012's Black Coaches Association and 2014 Basketball Times national coach of the year awards among others. Her transformation of a program with no winning record before her first season and leading them to silver at 2015 USA Basketball Women's World Cup are legendary within the sport; an unbreakable legend among basketball enthusiasts around the globe.
Kierra Fletcher, who started at point guard for South Carolina this season and recently injured her ankle while playing for the SEC title game against Tennessee on Sunday, will need to replace her. This comes as a surprising setback since Fletcher had been on an incredible run this year - scoring 4.6 points per game on average and leading all Gamecocks in assists with 60.
She's made a major impact on defense, slowing down opponents and suppressing their scoring attempts. That was on full display against LSU on Sunday when Staley called on Fletcher to slow down Tigers guard Alexis Morris and force her into shooting more midrange jumpers.
That's certainly no bad thing, as her career shooting percentage of 34.5 percent from deep and 79-percent success rate when in the paint speak for themselves. Additionally, she's an impressive on-ball defender, keeping teams off balance while adding some edge with her quick hands.
But what truly sets her apart on the court is her offensive versatility. She can get to the rim and score in open space, but her best play comes when playing on the wings where her athleticism and vision allow her to create space for teammates. It's no wonder why she has become such a valuable asset on the court!
Her role in USC's offense isn't simply to score points, but rather to be a reliable shooter and play with assurance - something she learned while playing for Georgia Tech's top-ranked team for four seasons.
After transferring to South Carolina for the season, Fletcher has started all but two games and averaged 4.3 points and 3.3 rebounds in 23 of them.
Fletcher's playmaking abilities aside, her on-ball defense has been a crucial asset for the Gamecocks this season; holding Tennessee guard Jordan Horston to 6-of-17 shooting on Thursday. Her defense has allowed USC's offense to move smoothly while keeping Tennessee out of the paint for better passing opportunities.
Fletcher is an exceptional point guard at this level, possessing the speed to get open shots, the instincts to know when to pass or stay in the lane, and the experience needed for success. She fits perfectly into coach Staley's system perfectly, and her presence will be key in helping the Gamecocks win championships.
Dawn Staley took over as head coach of South Carolina with visions of becoming a national powerhouse that would put the Gamecocks on the map. Winning a title would place her among women's college basketball greats like Geno Auriemma and Pat Summitt, who won more titles than any other coach in history.
But she also understood the need for her teams to be much more adaptable than some of the established titans of soccer. They needed to be able to take on teams with depth and experience while knowing they would need other players in key positions if their leading scorer suffered an injury.
On Saturday afternoon, Fletcher, who had started 29 games this season for the 31-0 Gamecocks, suffered an injury to her left ankle during a SEC semifinal against Mississippi and was sent to the locker room. Later in the game, Johnson took over at point guard - a position she had only started two times this year for 12-0 Columbia.
Staley didn't let the loss of one of her top players affect her coaching decisions. She kept her core group together even if they all played less than their usual numbers and even had some fun with them during her postgame speech.
In her first three seasons with the Gamecocks, she has relied on a different type of team leadership. Instead of starting senior guard Kierra Fletcher as her starting point guard, redshirt freshman Raven Johnson--the top recruit in America entering 2021--served as her backup plank.
Staley has seen her offense run more efficiently this year, helping the team stay in the top 10 nationally for scoring this year.
She has also relied heavily on six-foot three forward Laeticia Amihere and shooting guard Zia Cooke this year, who both have taken a more prominent role. Together they have led the team in scoring with each average of at least 20 points.
South Carolina women's basketball team is on fire right now. They boast the nation's longest win streak (34 games), and look like they might be on their way to winning their ninth consecutive SEC regular season title under head coach Dawn Staley. But how do they keep it all together?
They've experienced some injuries this year, such as senior Kierra Fletcher suffering a stress fracture in her foot and redshirt freshman Raven Johnson suffering a knee injury in the second game of the season. But both have returned fully to practice and are set to play in the SEC championship game - an incredible accomplishment for two players who weren't expected to make it this far.
Fletcher and Johnson both had a major role in the Gamecocks' 94-42 SEC victory against Auburn on Thursday. After playing nearly equal minutes this season, both point guards recorded their best games of the year.
Fletcher began and played 20 minutes, recording five assists, one steal and blocking her second career 3-pointer as the Gamecocks shot 50% from the field. Additionally, she recorded her second double-double of the season with 11 points and 10 rebounds - both career highs.
The Gamecocks' starting lineup, led by Fletcher at the point, looked very different than in their SEC opener against Florida. They started 0-for-8 from the field and committed four turnovers in the opening quarter - enough for Tennessee to go ahead 19-10 after one.
But the Gamecocks rallied in the second quarter and never looked back. They went on a 9-0 run to end the quarter and held Auburn scoreless for over six and a half minutes.
They never relented the rest of the way, and even when Auburn got going in the third quarter, it proved difficult for them to keep up. South Carolina forced three turnovers during that span and kept its deficit at 20 points until Tennessee scored its final points of the night late in the fourth.