Zia Cooke is having her first breakout season for USC WBB

South Carolina's Zia Cooke (1) and the Gamecocks celebrate with a three-pointer during the first half of the game against Missouri at Colonial Live Arena on Sunday, December 15, 2023.

South Carolina’s Zia Cooke (1) and the Gamecocks celebrate with a three-pointer during the first half of the game against Missouri at Colonial Live Arena on Sunday, December 15, 2023.

tglantz@thestate.com

South Carolina guard Zia Cook is in the midst of the best season of her four-year career — and coach Don Staley wonders what took her so long to do it.

Staley knew 4th in the Class of 2019 recruit She could play, but Cooke showed a different level of excellence in her first season.

“It took me four years to get good pictures,” Staley told Cooke on Sunday.

Cook replied, “Yeah, it was just God’s timing.”

A product of Toledo, Ohio, Cooke averages career highs in points, assists, field goal percentage, free throw percentage and makes 3 points per game. She also had the lowest turnover per game of her career, despite having more minutes on base.

She led South Carolina in scoring in 10 of her first 20 games, including her own 24 points in the team’s 92-46 Sunday win over Arkansas. Sunday marked the fourth time she’s scored 20 or more points in a single game this season.

“I think I’ve been in a great place mentally since the start of the season,” Cook said. “I was having fun out there. I just do my best to play that way every time I step on the floor.”

Cooke plays with confidence, taking the same shots she missed in previous parts of the games, driving to the rim to earn free throw attempts and celebrating after a made basket with different dances or poses.

Missed shots don’t deter Cook as they have in the past. As a result, they made it more efficient.

“Last year, they probably would have made her take four or five bad shots in the second half,” Staley said. “She didn’t do that. She just relied on her ability to create a habit of taking good shots and shooting shots.”

Her production this season is the high point of her rookie campaign, which featured career lows in points and field goals, free throws and a 3-point percentage.

Throughout her career, Staley Cook has encouraged staying put when the shots aren’t going to land. Staley tells her that she is not “one-dimensional” as a player and that scoring is not the only way to influence the game.

“Pre-season, I’m just like, ‘Dia, you just have to Staley said. “Don’t think of anything. Just do. Don’t get caught up in the missed shot.”

Attend at the right time

Cooke’s production gives the Gamecocks (20-0, 8-0 SEC) a new dimension, especially when you’ve put in an effective shooting night.

When the Boston High was facing the Quad against Georgia, Made a performance of 31 points That lifted USC to win. Cook’s second half offense against South Dakota State helped South Carolina put the game away in the fourth quarter.

In the second game of the season against Maryland, she scored 10 of her 18 points in the Jimmycocks’ explosive third quarter to leave a ground run for the team. She also made her first of three games with at least four three-pointers this season during that outing.

“Zia has just grown in such an amazing way,” said Boston. “I think she was just getting better. She’s putting in all the work after rehearsal. She’s getting shot after shot. And it still pays off.”

Cooke is now a veteran of the team, and he has plenty of experience to speak of.

I watched one season end prematurely due to COVID-19, and another end with a heartbreaking loss in the Final Four before helping USC to its national championship.

This was similar to how she performed on the field. It took Cook time to fully figure things out, but the more she did, the more dangerous the Gamecocks became.

“It’s mentally tougher,” Staley said. “She’s stronger psychologically. All together. We were hoping to meet up a little sooner. But her time is her time. It couldn’t have happened at a better time.”

Zia Cooke’s career year

Stats for 2022-23 as of Monday

  • Points per game: 15.8 (up from 10.7 in 2021-22)
  • Assists per game: 2.1 (from 1.7)
  • Field goal percentage: 43% (from 34%)
  • Free throw percentage: 80.5% (over 70.5%)
  • 3 points per game: 2.0 (up from 1.3)
  • Turnover per game: 1.4 (down from 2.0)

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Profile photo of Jeremiah Holloway

Jeremiah Holloway covers South Carolina women’s basketball and soccer for the state. A graduate of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, he is from Greensboro, NC and is a basketball fan. Holloway joined the state in August 2022.

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