5:30 PM AST

Dawn Staley told her team something wasn't right one day before a film session.

The coach couldn't get her hand on it. The team was focused and working hard after winning their second national title. Four of five starters are back and they will have more depth this year.

Staley was unable to shake the feeling.

She told us that she doesn't want us to look too far ahead. She wants us to know that we won a national championship, but she doesn't want us to think that we're going to get it again.

"We wanted to prove her wrong and let her know that winning in April isn't what we're worried about," said Cooke. We are only concerned about the regular season.

All the signs point in the right direction. The team could be better than last year's team according to the coach.

Two of the biggest questions in women's college basketball are how good the defending champion are and if they can repeat.

South Carolina will face its first major challenge Friday when it travels to Maryland. The title run can be repeated.

Is South Carolina even better at point guard?


This is a dime fromRaven Johnson.

The loss of Destanni Henderson could make for a big adjustment. The two players who are supposed to replace her could be even better.

A season-ending knee injury ended Johnson's freshman season after eight minutes. A foot injury kept her out of last season but she averaged career highs in scoring and assists in 2020-21.

The injury issues of both of them will not linger. In South Carolina's first game, Johnson was the starting point guard, while Fletcher was a reserve.

The new point guards can make the team better by being more efficient, taking care of the basketball and sharing the ball. South Carolina's 70.9 points per game was the lowest scoring average by a national champion in Division I history, and its shooting percentage was the lowest in school history.

It was difficult to get the ball to Boston. This year's point guards are able to put teammates in positions where they are shooting. In Monday's opener, Staley loved a Johnson pass that forced Cooke to meet the ball toward the basket, leading to a trip to the free throw line.

Last year we didn't get those plays. We don't make those passes, but we didn't have anyone that forced her to get the ball where she wanted it.

Last year's 35-2 team could be the reason why this team can be better, according to the coach. The Gamecocks shot 52.9% from the field and assisted 45% of their baskets in their season opener.

The Golden State Warriors are trying to win back-to-back titles.

"We know they share the ball with each other, they get shots up, and everyone looks good, so that's the goal," he said.

How far can their senior core lead the Gamecocks?


The block at the rim is large.

South Carolina needs Boston and the upperclassmen to realize their full potential in order to win its third NCAA title. Boston said that they understand how to win and can teach newcomers how to elevate their game by paying attention, watching film and doing what's needed on and off the court.

She said her seniors made her job a lot simpler. They're patient when they need to be and encouraging when necessary.

"I don't know if I'll ever have a group of young people that are mature enough to understand it." They do it from a personal and team perspective.

Boston is known for her easy-going nature, but she has been intentional about communicating with the newcomers to establish "at South Carolina, this is how we do things." Sometimes she might have to put her foot down as she learns how to address players in different ways.

She doesn't want her teammates to be bad, but she does want them to be great.

Boston's work ethic and play set an example for the rest of the team as they looked at what Boston had done.

How can Cooke and Boston get even better?


There was a 3-pointer in the game.

The only returners who averaged double-figures in scoring last season are not the only areas where growth is needed.

She worked on the mental side of the game, becoming more of a thinker and not letting bad shooting stretches get her down. Cooke's points per game (10.7), field goal percentage (34.2%) and 3-point clip (28.7%) all hit career lows as a junior, and he has been challenged by Staley to be more efficient. She doesn't want to be defined by how well she shoots.

The other aspects of the game are neglected by putting scoring at the top of the list. The two have been talking for a long time.

"I told him to just play, don't worry about missed shots, don't worry about turnovers," she told him. It's your last year. Since then, he has been more free. She was 6 of 12 from the field. She shot 50% or better in seven games last year. She had already moved on from her mistakes in the opener.

"I don't know if I'll ever have a more mature core group of young people that get it. They know what's supposed to get done, and they just do it." Dawn Staley

Boston, who averaged 16.8 points, 12.5rpg and 2.4 blocks last season, has been challenged by Staley to become a more fluid, quicker and smarter passer, which will be important at the next level.

South Carolina won the national championship after Boston's work following the Final Four. Boston is going to be a freer place after such a great run.

Boston said that the pressure he felt after the Final Four loss was like "OK, you've accomplished this." You don't necessarily have to put as much pressure on yourself as I do.

She is embracing who she is. She doesn't chase anything anymore.

How will depth develop?

South Carolina relied on its starting five last season. Do you think this year will be this one? By far, we will have more depth.

Kamilla Cardoso and Sania Feagin played 13.3 and 4.3 minutes per game, respectively, in the year 2021, and the coach seems pleased with their progress. Feagin spent the summer in Columbia working on her game. Cardoso went back to Brazil for the summer to be with her family.

Feagin's 15 points were a career high and the second-most on the team; Cardoso (11 points) finished as one of six players in double figures.

Even though they are rookies, guard Talaysia Cooper and forward Ashlyn Watkins have turned heads.

Even within the starting five, there's been growth: Brea Beal is already in the playoffs with her conditioning and is making all the right basketball plays.

How much can this group ward off complacency?

The team went to the first Final Four in program history. The same team came back the next year, and thought they would win a national title.

She said that South Carolina didn't take the journey of the regular season with as much seriousness as it should. The Syracuse team upset the South Carolina team. The message has been the same.

I tell them not to take because we won. Staley said to hone into why they won, how they won and the journey it took for them to win.

Maybe players will chase a new standard if this squad is even better than last year.

The difference between this team and last year is that all of us are on the same page. Everyone on the floor listens to each other. Everyone's advice is taken by us.

It's cliché, but the crux of not being complacent is not to look too far ahead. It will not be a problem for this group.

She wondered how you could focus on something that is months away. It's like you're not focused on what's happening right now. The main thing is what's in front of you.