Awards: Most Improved Team

WBB_TeamWomen’s basketball ran away with Gamecock Illustrated’s Most Improved Team Award this year.

One year after going 1-27, 1-15 in the Ohio Valley Conference, the Gamecocks finished this season 14-18 and 8-8 in the OVC. It was good enough to earn them the sixth seed in the OVC Tournament. The Gamecocks knocked off SIU Edwardsville and Tennessee Tech before bowing out in the semifinals to Belmont.

Perhaps more impressive than their turnaround are the obstacles they overcame along the way. Former head coach Anette Watts resigned June 4. First year head coach Rick Pietri was not hired until June 24. The players were wrapping up summer workouts and on their way home at that time. He did not get a chance to work with them until school started in August.

When the Gamecocks began practice, the injury bug bit them hard causing Pietri to recruit LeCresha Horton from the Track team. Freshman point guard Kelly Naughton started every game and freshman shooting guard Briana Benson started the second half of the season A player departure and more injuries saw the Gamecocks finish the second half of the season with only nine players. Even so, they won 10 of their final 16 games over that stretch.

The OVC took notice and named Pietri its Coach of the Year and junior guard Candace Morton All-OVC Second Team. Off the court, they signed the fourth ranked class in the OVC, headlined by Alabama’s top two leaders in scoring all-time Courtney and Leah Strain. All things considered, the Gamecocks became the obvious choice for Most Improved Team.

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