Gamecocks’ coach Dawn Staley has mixed feelings on rules changes

USC women's basketball coach Dawn Staley led the Gamecocks to a program-best 34-3 record and first Final Four berth last season. (AP Photo/Gerry Broome)

It was only a few weeks ago when Dawn Staley first heard of the proposal to implement sweeping rules changes in women’s college basketball. And now, those changes — most notably, four 10-minute quarters rather than two 20-minute halves — have been formally adopted for next season.

The speed of it all left South Carolina’s coach a touch mystified, and with mixed feelings about the state of the women’s game.

“It does make you wonder what our game is going to be like in the next year or two if something like this can pass so quickly,” Staley said Thursday during a break in her annual kids’ camp. “I heard about it a few weeks ago, and now it’s been implemented. So I don’t know. I grew up playing basketball the other way, but the game is different, people are different, players are different. So hopefully, it will be an opportunity to grow.”

The NCAA’s Playing Rules Oversight Panel approved rule changes recommended by the Women’s Basketball Rules Committee, foremost among them the shift from halves to quarters. The NCAA also changed the bonus rule to allow 1-and-1s after the fifth team foul in each quarter, and will now let teams inbound in the frontcourt following a change of possession and a time out in the final minute.

The changes, many of which mirror rules in international play, are designed to enhance the quality of play and spur fan interest. From the perspective of USC — which is coming off a program-best 34-3 season capped by a first Final Four berth, and led the nation with an average attendance of over 12,000 spectators per game — it’s easy to wonder why there was an issue to begin with.

“It’s more in line with international play,” Staley said of the changes. “But I kind of liked the fact that we were a little bit different in the college game having two halves. And let’s face it, basketball was created here (in the United States). I wouldn’t mind having other people change to the way we were doing things. But the newness of it, I like.”

The changes will certainly require adjustments from coaches, who will have their substitution patterns altered due to the quarter format and be faced with very different end-of-game situations due to the NBA-like ability to inbound from the frontcourt after a time out in the final minute. Staley will get a taste of those rules in July when she coaches the U.S. team in the under-19 world championships in Russia.

“I’ll get a head start on some of the other coaches who’ll have to wait until the season to figure those things out,” she said.

Virginia transfer Sarah Imovbioh is already on campus, while Georgia Teach transfer Kaela Davis arrives later this summer. Imovbioh, the ACC’s leading rebounder last year, can play this coming season because she is a graduate transfer. Davis, an All-ACC guard who was the Jackets’ leading scorer, must sit out a year.

“To have Sarah and to have Kaela fall into our laps, it creates a little bit of cushion for us to know that we’re OK in the next couple of years,” said Staley, who has one scholarship remaining. “But the only reason why our program is attractive to them is, they know we’ve progressed. We’ve been to a Final Four, and they both talked about us going to the Final Four as one of the main reasons why we were a school of their choice.”

Former USC and Goose Creek High School star Aleighsa Welch has been working in Staley’s office as she waits for an overseas playing opportunity to come together for the fall. Welch has been working Staley’s camps and traveling the state making speaking engagements. “She’s made a name for herself,” Staley said.

Duke and Connecticut both come to Columbia this coming season, and Staley hinted that USC will open the season at home against another big-name school. “It will be a Sweet 16 team that will be coming to the Colonial Life Arena,” she said. “So hopefully we’ll pack the house and create the environment we created all season long last year, and take it up a notch.”

The success of Staley’s program was evident in the crowd at her kids’ camp, which was at capacity. The best part? “The rims are lower, so I can actually dunk,” she said. “That’s been a great part of our camp, me dunking on people and putting it on social media.”