NCAAW: Zia Cooke key for dominant SC Gamecocks, looking ahead to WNBA

The South Carolina Gamecocks (15-0, 3-0 SEC) are off to a spotless start to the 2022-23 NCAA season, making it through a tough non-conference schedule unscathed and carrying that success through the beginning of SEC play. The defending champions have looked perhaps even more impressive than when they went 36-2 and won their second national title. They are 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 largely characterized by dominant physical play, led by 2023’s presumed No. 1 overall draft pick, center Aliyah Boston. It’s reflected in the statistics; no team in the country defends and rebounds like South Carolina, and it’s made the No. 1 Gamecocks favorites to successfully defend their title come March.

There’s more to South Carolina than elite frontcourt play, though. Senior guard Zia Cooke, who joined the Gamecocks along with Boston as a highly-touted recruit in 2019, has been a fixture in South Carolina’s starting lineup since her very first collegiate game, and thus has made an impact on a program that has gone a combined 108-8 in the past three-plus seasons.

Cooke, a 5-foot-9 product of Rogers High School in Toledo, Ohio, quickly developed a reputation at South Carolina as a player who never shies away from taking difficult shots and has a knack for stepping up in key moments. As a senior, her game has become more efficient, which bodes well not only for the 2022-23 Gamecocks, but for Cooke, too, as the 2023 WNBA Draft inches closer and closer. Let’s look at what Cooke means to South Carolina and why a WNBA team may want to draft her in the spring.

Honors and statistics

Cooke, who committed to South Carolina as a McDonald’s All-American and ESPN HoopGurlz No. 4 overall prospect (No. 1 point guard) in the recruiting class of 2019, made an immediate impact on the Gamecocks program, starting in all 33 games she played as a freshman. Cooke averaged 12 points per game in her first season at South Carolina and led the Gamecocks in both 3-pointers (40) and free throws (79) made, earning SEC All-Freshman honors along the way.

Since then, she’s become an integral part of a South Carolina program that has been arguably the most successful in the nation. As the Gamecocks’ starting shooting guard, Cooke has made the All-SEC Team twice (2021 First Team and 2022 Second Team) and earned All-America Honorable Mention nods as both a sophomore and a junior. She was also named to the NCAA Final Four All-Tournament team twice (2021 and 2022), the latter honor earned during the Gamecocks’ most recent National Championship run.

Internationally, Cooke has been competing for USA Basketball since 2015, when she participated in team trials for USA’s U16 National Team. Since then, Cooke has won two gold medals with Team USA: one in 2017 during the FIBA Americas U16 Championship and another in 2018 during the FIBA…

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Read More: NCAAW: Zia Cooke key for dominant SC Gamecocks, looking ahead to WNBA 2023-01-08 15:57:44

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