COLUMBIA — The South Carolina women’s basketball team will be without one of its starters against No. 18 Kentucky, the final hurdle before a potential No. 1 versus No. 2 showdown against Connecticut.
Gamecocks head coach Dawn Staley said senior wing Asia Dozier, who has started the past eight games for second-ranked South Carolina, will miss Thursday’s 7 p.m. game with a right hand injury suffered in Sunday’s victory at No. 12 Texas A&M.
“She won’t play against Kentucky,” Staley said Wednesday. “She hasn’t practiced. We’re just waiting for the pain to subside.”
Although Dozier averages just 3.2 points per game, her contribution to the Gamecocks (21-0, 9-0 SEC) goes beyond scoring. Dozier has started every game since missing the Jan. 3 contest against Arkansas while undergoing concussion protocol.
“Asia Dozier is a real big key for us,” said senior guard Khadijah Sessions. “She’s our coach as far as on the (floor). The things she does, the IQ she has on the court, the ability she has to take charges, to just read the defense — I know she’s not scoring big numbers, but her presence on the court means a lot to our basketball team, and we’re going to miss her.”
Dozier did not practice Wednesday, and Staley said the senior’s condition is day-to-day beyond Thursday. “She’s dealing with some pain,” Staley said. “Once that pain subsides, we’ll see if we can get her back out here to practice.”
With Dozier out, Staley will likely turn to senior Tina Roy against the Wildcats (15-5, 4-5). Roy, the team’s top 3-point shooter at 38 percent, has started 10 contests this season and is averaging 6.6 points per game.
“Tina’s the next person in line,” Staley said. “She was a starter early on, she’s been in our program for a long time, and at this point in the season you want who you can count on, and be able to predict what’s going to happen out there a little bit.”
Kentucky is USC’s last game before a Monday night showdown against No. 1 Connecticut, which played Wednesday night at Tulane and hosts East Carolina on Saturday. The Gamecocks and Huskies are the lone unbeaten teams in women’s college basketball.
“I think it’s creeping into everybody’s mind,” Staley said of the UConn game. But “you can’t overlook a team like Kentucky. It’s our rival team, it’s our rival opponent, and all of our games with them have been nail-biters. So if you let anything besides Kentucky, with what they’re bringing to the table, seep in, it can spoil our season right now. Not spoil it for UConn. Spoil our season for all the work that we’ve done to be undefeated.”