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‘Nobody wants the role’ she plays, but Brea Beal crucial to Gamecocks’ Sweet 16 run


Ten points in two games.

That’s it.

That’s the extent of sophomore Brea Beal’s scoring early in this NCAA tournament for South Carolina women’s basketball.

Look at the list of the No. 1 seed Gamecocks’ top scorers, and Beal ranks fifth, below every other starter. Nationally, she’s outside the top 1,300.

But points alone can’t account for all that Beal does. And for a USC squad back in the Sweet 16 off the strength of a dominant defensive performance in Tuesday’s second-round win over Oregon State, Beal’s performances cannot be minimized.

Under NCAA and SEC rules, only one player has been made available to speak with reporters after each of South Carolina’s wins in the conference and national tournament. With that distinction frequently going to the leading scorer or star player, that’s meant Beal hasn’t talked publicly for several weeks now. It mirrors her understated, unassuming and even stoic personality.

“That’s her makeup, you know?” USC coach Dawn Staley said after Beal tallied seven points, six rebounds and a block in the first round against Mercer. “Brea is the oldest in her family, and she’s got some younger siblings that, she’s always in control, so if you ever seen her little brothers, they can get at it. But Brea’s the calm in the family, and you can see her maturity out there on the floor.

“You can see it in practice. I was watching her and she was kind of explaining to (freshman guard Eniya Russell) the things she needed to do while she’s guarding her. While Eniya was guarding her, she’s telling her how to play her and what we need to do as a team, so it’s cool. I feel very comfortable knowing that Brea’s on our side and we don’t have to play against her.”

Beal emerged as South Carolina’s top defensive player as a freshman and has carried that over into her second season, even as the points haven’t always come in the bunches that they do for classmates like Aliyah Boston and Zia Cooke, who garnered All-SEC honors this year.

That was especially apparent Tuesday against Oregon State. In the first half, Boston had 11 points, Cooke had six. Junior guard Destanni Henderson had eight as well. Beal? She was scoreless — but also had pulled down seven rebounds.

“You can’t function as a team if people don’t accept their roles. And a lot of times, nobody wants the role that Brea Beal plays for us,” Staley said. “That is, locking down in our opponent’s best offensive guard — sometimes that is sacrificing your shot for a better shot, sometimes that is just being a decoy and being a screener.

“Nobody wants that. But here’s the truth of the matter — pro teams are looking at that. They are. They are looking at players who can be that spark off the bench, that doesn’t mind getting in there, getting rebounds and getting stops. Because … the WNBA is full of players that could definitely score the basketball. It’s not a whole lot of them that are great pieces to a franchise, but she’s setting herself up to be a great pro, and to be in a place where, when she becomes a senior and it’s time for her to leave, her number is going to be on the draft board.”

Beal finished Tuesday’s game with 11 rebounds, a team-high and her most on the season. She also had two steals, two assists and a block to go with three points that she scored off just three field goal attempts.

“Brea was killing it. I mean, look at her shine,” Boston said of her teammate with a smile.

It’s been more than seven weeks since Beal has scored in double figures, but advanced metrics show more of her value. According to Her Hoop Stats, she ranks in the 93rd percentile nationally in both defensive rating and defensive win shares per 40 minutes.

Those stats may not be the kind that turn many heads or pop out on a box score. But Beal’s willingness to “embrace her role” doesn’t go unnoticed among her teammates.

“I think that plays an important part, because Brea’s a great defender, Brea does all the little things. She boxes out, she gets the rebounds, she helps us to push, and we’re able to take advantage of her when smaller guards are on her,” Boston said. “She does everything we need her to do and I’m just really proud of her for that.”


What: NCAA tournament Sweet 16

Who: No. 1 seed South Carolina vs. No. 5 seed Georgia Tech

When: Saturday OR Sunday (TBD)

Where: Alamodome in San Antonio, Texas

Watch: TBA


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