No. 1 South Carolina eked out a 65-58 win over No. 24 North Carolina on Thursday, but freshman phenom MiLaysia Fulwiley played just three minutes.
It was an uncharacteristic game from Fulwiley, who had been playing significant minutes and hadn’t scored less than 10 points in her first five games. She entered Thursday’s contest as the Gamecocks’ second-leading scorer but rode the bench after the first quarter.
South Carolina trailed 19-10 after the first quarter. For head coach Dawn Staley, the decision to bench Fulwiley came because she wanted to go with the hotter defensive player.
“From a defensive standpoint, she lost her man a few times and gave up a couple of 3s,” Staley said.
Fulwiley entered the night averaging 15.0 points, 4.0 rebounds and 23.5 minutes per game. She also has been sound defensively, with 10 steals and 7 blocks on the year.
But there’s still room for improvement, Staley said. And while the game showcased an area in which Fulwiley can improve, Staley also was looking out for her player.
“I know that’s probably one of the things she has to improve on, but it was such a nip-and-tuck game that I don’t want her to lose confidence,” Staley said. “She’ll know exactly why she didn’t get extended minutes. I’ve always told our players if you play well, you get extended minutes. If you don’t, they have to go to someone else. It could be you at times, it could not be you at times.”
After all, though South Carolina is ranked No. 1 in the country, the Gamecocks are still a young team and there will be growing pains. But they did rally in the second half to take the lead and the win from UNC. Their next game comes on the road at 1 p.m. ET Sunday against Duke.
“We just have such a young team that they got to know, and hopefully she doesn’t feel good about not playing as much as she probably wanted to,” Staley said. “Hopefully we can get her in at Duke and hopefully play some extended minutes, but she’s got to be ready to rock and roll.”