COLUMBIA — For a third consecutive season, the SEC Player of the Year comes from South Carolina. But this time, it’s someone other than the winner from the past two years.
Sophomore forward A’ja Wilson ended teammate Tiffany Mitchell’s two-year run, earning the league’s highest women’s basketball honor Tuesday in a vote of conference coaches. USC dominated the postseason awards just as it did the SEC regular season, with three players on the all-conference first team, and Dawn Staley winning Coach of the Year for a record third consecutive season.
Wilson, just the third sophomore to be named Player of the Year, was also named the league’s Defensive Player of the Year. The 6-5 Hopkins native emerged as a dominating post presence this season, leading the SEC in blocks while finishing third in scoring and fourth in rebounding.
Wilson led USC with a scoring average of 16.6 points per game, and her 85 blocked shots set a new school record. She also averaged 8.7 rebounds and shot 54 percent from the floor in a sophomore campaign that netted the Gamecocks a third consecutive SEC championship.
South Carolina becomes the first program to boast the SEC Player of the Year in three consecutive seasons. Mitchell, a senior from Charlotte, won the award the past two years. She finished the regular season as South Carolina’s second-leading scorer at 14.9 points per game, good enough for eighth in the league, all while playing over 100 more minutes than anyone else on the USC roster.
Mitchell, Wilson, and junior forward Alaina Coates, who leads USC with a 65.5 field goal percentage and 15 double-doubles, were all named first-team All-SEC. Staley earned her third straight Coach of the Year recognition after leading the third-ranked Gamecocks to a 16-0 SEC record, making them just the second league squad to reach that mark.
Four other coaches have received the award at least three times, led by eight-time winner Pat Summitt of Tennessee, but never consecutively. Staley’s Gamecocks clinched the outright SEC championship with three games to play and won the league by five games, the largest margin since Tennessee in 2011 — the only other SEC program to finish 16-0.
South Carolina (28-1) is the No. 1 seed in this week’s SEC Tournament in Jacksonville, Fla., and opens at noon Friday in a quarterfinal against either No. 8 seed Missouri or No. 9 seed Auburn. The Gamecocks are also likely to be a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament, and host the opening two rounds at Colonial Life Arena.