NCAAW: Zia Cooke key to dominant SC Gamecocks, eyes WNBA

the South Carolina Gamecocks (15-0, 3-0 SEC) They got off to a clean start to the 2022-23 NCAA season, making it through a tough non-conference schedule unscathed and carrying that success through starting SEC play. The defending champions probably looked more impressive than when they went 36-2 and won their second national title. It’s a well-oiled basketball machine that the rest of the country is still trying to figure out.

The Gamecocks’ recent success under head coach Dawn Staley has been characterized largely by dominant physical play, led by the 2023 presumptive No. 1 draft pick, Aliyah Boston center. This is reflected in the statistics. No team in the country defends and recovers the ball like South Carolina, and the Gamecocks were the favorites to successfully defend their title in the month of March.

There’s more to South Carolina than elite forecourt theater. great guard Zia Cookwho joined the Gamecocks along with Boston as a highly regarded recruit in 2019, has been a staple of South Carolina’s starting lineup since its first collegiate game, thus making an impact on a program that has gone 108-8 overall in the past three seasons.

Cooke, a 5-foot-9 product at Rogers High School in Toledo, Ohio, quickly developed a reputation in South Carolina as a player who never shy away from catching hard shots and had a knack for stepping up in crucial moments. As a senior, her game has become more effective, which bodes well not only for Gamecocks 2022-23 games, but for Cooke as well, as 2023 WNBA Draft inches closer and closer. Let’s take a look at what Cook means to South Carolina and why the WNBA might want to draft her in the spring.

Honors and Statistics

Cook, who committed to South Carolina as a McDonald’s of America ESPN HoopGurlz The No. 4 overall prospect (No. 1 point guard) in the 2019 recruiting class made an immediate impact on the Gamecocks program, starting in all 33 games played as a freshman. Cook averaged 12 points per game in her first season at South Carolina and Gamecocks led on both three-pointers (40) and free throws (79), earning SEC All-Freshman honors along the way.

Since then, she has become an integral part of what is arguably the most successful South Carolina program in the country. As a starting shooting guard for the Gamecocks, Cooke made the All-SEC team twice (2021 first team and 2022 second team) and earned All-America Honorable Mention nominations as a sophomore and junior. She was also named to the NCAA Final Four All-Tournament Team twice (2021 and 2022), the latter honor earned during the Gamecocks’ last national championship.

At the international level, Cooke has been competing on American basketball Since 2015, when she participated in collegiate tryouts for the USA U-16 team. Since then, Cook has won two gold medals with Team USA: one in 2017 during the FIBA ​​Under-16 Americas Championship and another in 2018 during the FIBA ​​Under-17 World Cup. Most recently, Cooke participated in team tryouts for the 2021 AmeriCup USA team which lasted Earn gold in Puerto Rico.

Cook’s scoring efficiency peaked during her senior season

South Carolina v. Maryland

Cooke was always able to reach the hoop off the dribble, but as a senior she was more selective in her attack, resulting in a more efficient individual attack.
Photo by G Fiume/Getty Images

While South Carolina has been a standout program under Staley for many years now, in recent seasons the Gamecocks have overhauled their identity as a team to focus on defense, rebounding, and paint control on both ends of the floor. Since 2019, it is South Carolina Rank Be no less than No. 15 among Division 1 teams in points allowed per 100 possessions (No. 2 during the tournament last season) while no less than No. 4 (No. 1 last season) in total bounce rate (Its stats hop).

This, of course, is led by the team’s very physical pitch, with Bostonians, Victoria Saxton, Leticia Amieher and Camila Cardoso giving the Gamecocks unparalleled size and depth up front. When Brea Beal’s perimeter defense is factored in, it becomes a nightmare for crafting an effective offense against the Gamecocks, and while the team’s storied spacing tends to suffer from the sheer number of players on its roster who excel below the free throw line, its overall size often makes up for the That by working hard on the offensive glass.

Where as a high-octane ranger cook Fit for this type of team building? She is often tasked with saving the Gamecocks’ offense if she cannot get the ball up the post, usually on 3-point shots or long jump shots off the dribble. It’s not always a glorified offensive role, and while Cooke is more than capable of catching those shots—she led the Gamecocks in three-pointers made in two of her first three seasons with the program—she doesn’t always lend itself to effective individual offensive numbers, though she is In theory it is necessary to balance an attack that relies heavily on playing in a lower position.

As a senior, Cooke’s role has been somewhat improved, and she responded with the best offensive performance of her career to date. While the addition of Keira Fletcher through the transfer gate and the return of Raven Johnson from injury have boosted South Carolina’s guarding depth and eaten in Cook’s minutes (23.8), they shoot the ball at a higher rate than ever before (20 field goal attempts per 40) minutes; 28.5 percent usage rate), and the results are promising: Cook’s 50.3 percent effective field goal percentage is much higher than in years past, and he’s hitting the line more, too, posting a career-high free throw average of 20 percent.

Combined with his better decision-making (1.45 assist/turnover ratio—also a career high), Cooke became a player the Gamecocks could reliably rely on to balance their heavy hitting approach. Her offensive arsenal was on full display in South Carolina’s recent win over the… Georgia Bulldog: Opportunistic scores in transition, opening 3-pointers after moving patient whenever the Bulldogs crumbled paint and drives under control that yielded 13 free throw attempts.

Highlights: Cook scored a career-high 31 points against Georgia

Again, the context of the system in which Cooke plays matters. As a team that doesn’t widely feature picking and rolling in its offense (according to Synergy Sports, 6.5 percent of the Gamecocks’ possessions came via catch ball handlers and rollrs, and only 1.5 percent via roller), South Carolina needs its guards to be more selective in their offense and know How they make themselves available when frontcourt teammates draw extra defensive attention. Cooke’s improvement in these areas could very well mean the difference between low-scoring games, low-scoring games, and Gamecock victories.

Cook’s development also bodes well for her as a professional. There was never any doubt about her basketball skill and versatility of her jump shot, and she is also one of the best athletes in her position; The prospect of her playing a WNBA offense with a spaced floor and developed guard talent is intriguing, to say the least, and likely a major reason why the team took a swing at her in the 2023 WNBA Draft.

Watch her play

There is no shortage of nationally televised games in the rest of South Carolina Table. On Sunday, the Gamecocks will have a game Mississippi Bulldogs (ESPN2), and a week later they will play Missouri Tigers (ESPN). The Gamecocks have another SEC-televised nationally televised game against the Tennessee Lady Vols later, on February 23 (ESPN), and they will renew their non-conference rivalry against Okun Huskies on February 5 (Fox).

All stats and team records for the 2022-23 NCAA season current through January 7, 2023.

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