NCAAW: Zia Cooke key to dominant SC Gamecocks, eyes WNBA

the South Carolina Gamecocks (15-0, 3-0 SEC) They received off to a clear begin to the 2022-23 NCAA season, making it by way of a tricky non-conference schedule unscathed and carrying that success by way of beginning SEC play. The defending champions in all probability regarded extra spectacular than once they went 36-2 and gained their second nationwide title. It is a well-oiled basketball machine that the remainder of the nation remains to be making an attempt to determine.

The Gamecocks’ current success below head coach Daybreak Staley has been characterised largely by dominant bodily play, led by the 2023 presumptive No. 1 draft decide, Aliyah Boston middle. That is mirrored within the statistics. No group within the nation defends and recovers the ball like South Carolina, and the Gamecocks had been the favorites to efficiently defend their title within the month of March.

There’s extra to South Carolina than elite forecourt theater. nice guard Zia Cook dinnerwho joined the Gamecocks together with Boston as a extremely regarded recruit in 2019, has been a staple of South Carolina’s beginning lineup since its first collegiate recreation, thus making an affect on a program that has gone 108-8 total previously three seasons.

Cooke, a 5-foot-9 product at Rogers Excessive Faculty in Toledo, Ohio, shortly developed a popularity in South Carolina as a participant who by no means draw back from catching arduous pictures and had a knack for stepping up in essential moments. As a senior, her recreation has change into simpler, which bodes nicely not just for Gamecocks 2022-23 video games, however for Cooke as nicely, as 2023 WNBA Draft inches nearer and nearer. Let’s check out what Cook dinner means to South Carolina and why the WNBA would possibly wish to draft her within the spring.

Honors and Statistics

Cook dinner, who dedicated to South Carolina as a McDonald’s of America ESPN HoopGurlz The No. 4 total prospect (No. 1 level guard) within the 2019 recruiting class made a direct affect on the Gamecocks program, beginning in all 33 video games performed as a freshman. Cook dinner averaged 12 factors per recreation in her first season at South Carolina and Gamecocks led on each three-pointers (40) and free throws (79), incomes SEC All-Freshman honors alongside the way in which.

Since then, she has change into an integral half of what’s arguably essentially the most profitable South Carolina program within the nation. As a beginning capturing guard for the Gamecocks, Cooke made the All-SEC group twice (2021 first group and 2022 second group) and earned All-America Honorable Point out nominations as a sophomore and junior. She was additionally named to the NCAA Remaining 4 All-Match Staff twice (2021 and 2022), the latter honor earned through the Gamecocks’ final nationwide championship.

On the worldwide stage, Cooke has been competing on American basketball Since 2015, when she participated in collegiate tryouts for the USA U-16 group. Since then, Cook dinner has gained two gold medals with Staff USA: one in 2017 through the FIBA ​​Below-16 Americas Championship and one other in 2018 through the FIBA ​​Below-17 World Cup. Most not too long ago, Cooke participated in group tryouts for the 2021 AmeriCup USA group which lasted Earn gold in Puerto Rico.

Cook dinner’s scoring effectivity peaked throughout her senior season

South Carolina v. Maryland

Cooke was all the time capable of attain the ring off the dribble, however as a senior she was extra selective in her assault, leading to a extra environment friendly particular person assault.
Picture by G Fiume/Getty Pictures

Whereas South Carolina has been a standout program below Staley for a few years now, in current seasons the Gamecocks have overhauled their id as a group to concentrate on protection, rebounding, and paint management on each ends of the ground. Since 2019, it’s South Carolina Rank Be a minimum of No. 15 amongst Division 1 groups in factors allowed per 100 possessions (No. 2 through the match final season) whereas a minimum of No. 4 (No. 1 final season) in total bounce price (Its stats hop).

This, in fact, is led by the group’s very bodily pitch, with Bostonians, Victoria Saxton, Leticia Amieher and Camila Cardoso giving the Gamecocks unparalleled dimension and depth up entrance. When Brea Beal’s perimeter protection is factored in, it turns into a nightmare for crafting an efficient offense in opposition to the Gamecocks, and whereas the group’s storied spacing tends to undergo from the sheer variety of gamers on its roster who excel under the free throw line, its total dimension usually makes up for the That by working arduous on the offensive glass.

The place as a high-octane ranger cook dinner Match for the sort of group constructing? She is usually tasked with saving the Gamecocks’ offense if she can’t get the ball up the publish, often on 3-point pictures or lengthy bounce pictures off the dribble. It isn’t all the time a glorified offensive function, and whereas Cooke is greater than able to catching these pictures—she led the Gamecocks in three-pointers made in two of her first three seasons with this system—she would not all the time lend itself to efficient particular person offensive numbers, although she is In principle it’s essential to stability an assault that depends closely on enjoying in a decrease place.

As a senior, Cooke’s function has been considerably improved, and she or he responded with the perfect offensive efficiency of her profession so far. Whereas the addition of Keira Fletcher by way of the switch gate and the return of Raven Johnson from damage have boosted South Carolina’s guarding depth and eaten in Cook dinner’s minutes (23.8), they shoot the ball at the next price than ever earlier than (20 discipline purpose makes an attempt per 40) minutes; 28.5 % utilization price), and the outcomes are promising: Cook dinner’s 50.3 % efficient discipline purpose share is far larger than in years previous, and he is hitting the road extra, too, posting a career-high free throw common of 20 %.

Mixed along with his higher decision-making (1.45 help/turnover ratio—additionally a profession excessive), Cooke grew to become a participant the Gamecocks may reliably depend on to stability their heavy hitting strategy. Her offensive arsenal was on full show in South Carolina’s current win over the… Georgia Bulldog: Opportunistic scores in transition, opening 3-pointers after shifting affected person each time the Bulldogs crumbled paint and drives below management that yielded 13 free throw makes an attempt.

Highlights: Cook dinner scored a career-high 31 factors in opposition to Georgia

Once more, the context of the system by which Cooke performs issues. As a group that does not broadly characteristic selecting and rolling in its offense (based on Synergy Sports activities, 6.5 % of the Gamecocks’ possessions got here by way of catch ball handlers and rollrs, and only one.5 % by way of curler), South Carolina wants its guards to be extra selective of their offense and know How they make themselves out there when frontcourt teammates draw additional defensive consideration. Cooke’s enchancment in these areas may very nicely imply the distinction between low-scoring video games, low-scoring video games, and Gamecock victories.

Cook dinner’s growth additionally bodes nicely for her as an expert. There was by no means any doubt about her basketball talent and flexibility of her bounce shot, and she or he can be among the best athletes in her place; The prospect of her enjoying a WNBA offense with a spaced flooring and creating guard expertise is intriguing, to say the least, and certain a serious purpose why the group took a swing at her within the 2023 WNBA Draft.

Watch her play

There isn’t a scarcity of nationally televised video games in the remainder of South Carolina Desk. On Sunday, the Gamecocks could have a recreation Mississippi Bulldogs (ESPN2), and per week later they are going to play Missouri Tigers (ESPN). The Gamecocks have one other SEC-televised nationally televised recreation in opposition to the Tennessee Girl Vols later, on February 23 (ESPN), and they’re going to renew their non-conference rivalry in opposition to Okun Huskies on February 5 (Fox).

All stats and group data for the 2022-23 NCAA season present by way of January 7, 2023.

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