South Carolina vs Clemson

South Carolina guard Bianca Cuevas-Moore (right) returns for another season, but she faces stiff competition for playing time. File/Travis Bell/Sideline Carolina

COLUMBIA — It’s a good thing. Having a player like Bianca Cuevas-Moore, with all of her experience and ability to immediately absorb what her coaches say and present it to teammates, will stabilize a basketball team that needs senior leadership.

South Carolina’s challenge is to figure out how to best take advantage of it. That may have to be mostly by voice in the locker room and from the bench during games as her playing status may fluctuate.

Gamecocks head coach Dawn Staley was right when she said that Cuevas-Moore, one of the fastest players she’s ever had, is a fan favorite. There’s nothing quite like seeing Cuevas-Moore kick on the afterburners and soar to the rim. And without her doing just that and tying up some of the opponent’s best players with her defense, the Gamecocks don’t reach either of their two Final Fours in the past four seasons.

Yet it’s not as simple as plugging Cuevas-Moore into a starting spot after missing an entire year due to injury. The Gamecocks have six other guards, all but one that have played (somewhere if not USC) and all are going to be vital to USC’s chances of staying at an elite level.

Cuevas-Moore lost her job as starting point guard to Ty Harris when conference play started in the 2016-17 season. She played alongside Harris during the most crucial part of the season after Alaina Coates was hurt, and played very well; the Gamecocks’ four-guard lineup won a national championship.

They will still be able to play four guards this year, but unlike then, the lone big player on the court won’t be A’ja Wilson. Yet it seems likely that USC will at least start the season playing with two forwards, even if Mikiah Herbert Harrigan is more of a stretch-four than a true post player.

Where does that put Cuevas-Moore? Harris is a junior and a returning starter. Bianca “Shay” Jackson was pressed into service as a freshman last year and played very well on the wing. Doniyah Cliney, a do-everything player, is the kind of player USC wants on the floor at all times, because she’ll be the one filling in every gap that opens during every game.

Then there’s Te’a Cooper and Nelly Perry, each of whom started their careers elsewhere but are here now. Cooper is finally free of her transfer restriction from Tennessee and drew all sorts of kudos for her practice play last year, while Perry was Clemson’s top scorer two years ago (she missed last season with a shoulder injury).

Logic says a team doesn’t bring in players like that and not play them, especially Perry, who only has one year left. Staley has obviously played the other transfers she’s had, but there still has to be room made for freshman Destanni Henderson, the top-rated point guard in the country in this year’s class.

Cuevas-Moore only averaged above 23 minutes per game once, in that 2016-17 season. It’s nothing extraordinary for her to not play the majority of a season so she probably wouldn’t expect to.

There’s also the injury question which may linger into the season. Cuevas-Moore had knee surgery in February. Everybody heals differently but a standard recovery from knee surgery is 6-8 months.

By the straight timetable, that has Cuevas-Moore ready for the season, but who knows how much time she’ll need to truly be ready? She didn’t play at all last season and by the time she takes the court, Cuevas-Moore will be at least 16 months from her last true game competition.

“Bianca and I have had our ups and downs, but my love for her has never wavered," Staley said in a statement. "I am excited that I get to coach her for another season, and I know that Gamecock Nation is equally excited to see her back in action at Colonial Life Arena."

She will be back in action, but when and how much remains to be seen.

Follow David Cloninger on Twitter @DCPandC.

From Rock Hill, S.C., David Cloninger covers Gamecock sports. He will not rest until he owns every great film and song ever recorded.

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