March 24, 2023
South Carolina reflects on newbie nerves but stays confident as united team
"Freshies" bring confidence to undefeated Gamecocks
GREENVILLE, S.C. — This season, South Carolina freshman Chloe Kitts, who left high school early to join the Gamecocks midseason, posed a question to her team.
“I asked all the girls, ‘Do you guys get nervous?’ They said, “No, not really,’” Kitts told The Next ahead of their Saturday matchup with UCLA.
And although her veteran team remains calm, Kitts is still learning to find that undying confidence.
“I don’t have much confidence, but they give me confidence,” Kitts said. “Definitely Aliyah [Boston] and [Lae]Tic[ia] [Amihere]. Tic texts me a lot, saying she’s proud of me and to keep working.”
Freshman Raven Johnson says that in the previous UCLA matchup back in November, she was “very nervous.” But now, her nerves have calmed. Over the season, as her knee injury has healed and she’s settled into her first season in Columbia, she has found her confidence.
Fifth-year senior Kierra Fletcher, the team’s lone transfer, says that finding her place on the team amidst the self-imposed pressure has been a challenge. Her confidence hasn’t always been high, but it’s nothing that her team hasn’t helped her shake.
“I think that’s natural for that to happen … if you’re having a shooting slump or maybe defensively you’re having lapses during the season,” Fletcher said. “But again, we don’t allow that to carry over into the next day… Immediately after that, we try to uplift and just instill that confidence.”
Even though confidence can sometimes run dry among individuals, especially those new to the program, the belief in the larger team is unwavering. As the Gamecocks arrive on the court for practice ahead of their UCLA matchup, a team that kept the score closer than the vast majority of games this season, any air of nerves is undetectable. As they walk onto the court at Bon Secours Wellness Arena, they sing and joke and tease one another for the hordes of media to gander at.
“When you have the freshies who always boost your head up and always in your ear, your confidence is never going to go nowhere,” Johnson said.
And although the “freshies” rule the Gamecock roost this season, that confidence stems from the top but runs deep to the program’s core.
“There have probably been moments where I’ve doubted myself personally, but my teammates have never doubted me,” Boston says, reflecting on her career. “We say. ‘Don’t get too high or too low with the lows,’ but personally, it can be harder said than done.”
According to Amihere, sometimes there are moments when the team’s confidence may balloon, but a reality check always follows.
“Even our first [NCAA Tournament] game against Norfolk State. I think that just coming in we were a little bit relaxed,” Amihere said. “Although we won the game by about 30 points, it just shows that we got to come in and make sure that we’re consistent to where we are.”
In a locker room just a hallway away, the Bruins’ confidence also feels strong. In the previous matchup, UCLA held South Carolina close for three and a half quarters until the Gamecocks caught fire, and UCLA lost their footing, finishing with a 73-64 loss.
Despite ultimately losing, that game instills confidence in the Bruins. Few teams have kept South Carolina close for more than a half: the shortlist includes UCLA, Stanford, and Mississippi. And at the SEC Tournament ahead of their South Carolina semifinals rematch, Mississippi Head Coach Yolett McPhee-McCuin said a previous close game allowed her team to focus on the X’s and O’s rather than convincing themselves they were good enough, and UCLA agrees.
“We don’t need to do anything extraordinarily. We just need to do what we do and do it consistently over 40 minutes,” Emily Bessoir said.
Leading scorer Charisma Osborne says they were a completely different team in November and that now they know how to play a full four quarters. According to UCLA freshman Kiki Rice, her team plays “as good, if not better” on the road, so the likely droves of Gamecock fans don’t phase the Bruins.
Even if Osborne says it’s a completely different team nearly four months later, Head Coach Dawn Staley knew this team was the real deal, telling UCLA Head Coach Cori Close after the November game that the two squads would meet again that season.
Similar to Bruins’ attitude, the Gamecocks feel November’s close matchup gives them more confidence that they can perform whistle to whistle. And although the Gamecocks across the board say their spirits are as high as always, they know that the game is far from certain.
“We know that anything can happen in this tournament, we know that it’s March Madness. We know that you can’t look at the number in front of somebody’s name and say, ‘Oh, we’re gonna beat them,’” Boston said. “Nobody wants to go home.”