COLUMBIA, S.C. (WIS) - Tuesday night, South Carolina eyes its third trip to the Final Four in program history. Standing in the Gamecocks way in Texas is Texas.
While the Longhorns enjoy the advantage of home cooking, the Gamecocks bring their ELITE cook to the battle, Zia Cooke.
When Cooke turns on the burners, there’s no slowing her down.
At the NCAA Tournament, Georgia Tech found out first-hand how her spark can ignite the offense. Cooke connected on her first three shots from the field in the Sweet 16 and finished leading the Gamecocks in scoring (17).
Cooke’s untapped potential, outside of dropping buckets, is head coach Dawn Staley’s focus. Staley knows Cooke is closing in on becoming an unstoppable force on the court.
“It’s been a process for Zia all season long,” said Staley. “Some games she looks absolutely great. Some games, she looks like she’s still in the process of becoming great.”
Staley has not shied away from letting her sophomore guard know she has more in the tank to give.
“Keeps it real with me and telling me what it is I need to do,” Cooke said. “I take value in it.”
Part of coach and Cooke’s discussions center on highlighting other aspects of the game.
“I told her a couple of days ago; you put too much value in scoring the basketball,” Staley said. “When you have so many other skillsets you don’t utilize or give value to.”
Cooke’s an elite scorer, reaching double figures in 25 of 29 games played this season. But she can also be fierce in different areas. Cooke’s finding ways to do that at the dance.
“You’re seeing her journey, her process being completed,” said Staley.
And Cooke’s growth starts with a mindset to dominate.
“Zia wants to kill every time she steps on the floor,” Staley mentioned. “Every time she touches the ball, she wants to make something happen. I rather coach from that aggressiveness than having to giddy up somebody.”
And Cooke gets into the right headspace before games through prayer.
“The thing I’ve been doing since my grandmother passed away is praying to her,” Cooke said. “I pray to her before every game. I don’t feel the same if I don’t do that. She’s what keeps me going and motivated to play hard.”
Cooke’s grandmother passed away in 2018 when she was in high school. She prays to her during every national anthem before tipoff. Between prayer and talks with her dad before tip time, Cooke readies herself to lead Carolina to victory.
One more Tuesday night against Texas sends the Gamecocks to the Final Four.