COLUMBIA, S.C. — Tyasha Harris sat in the front row surrounded by her South Carolina women’s basketball teammates on Monday night. Together, they watched the selection show and together they listened as Maryland coach Brenda Frense talked about having the best freshman point guard in the country.
Junior A’ja Wilson reacted right away, beginning to joke that she can name three freshman point guards and she has her money on Harris. As a whole, the Gamecocks feel very much the same about Harris, a first-year player from Indiana. And they love having her on their side going into the NCAA Tournament.
“I know Brenda Frese talked about her freshman point guard,” coach Dawn Staley said. “But I wouldn’t want any other point guard running our basketball team but Ty Harris.”
Harris stepped into the starting lineup early in the season, making 21 starts as a freshman. She will make No. 22 on Friday afternoon at Colonial Life Arena as the No. 1-seeded Gamecocks take on No. 16 seed UNC-Asheville.
She is up for the test, knowing that she can be an X-factor and believing she certainly is.
“I feel like if I go out there and don’t take charge of our team that things can go wrong,” Harris said. “But as long as I’m playing my game and we are all going good together, I feel like we have a great chance.”
Harris, who averages 5.4 points in 25.6 minutes per game, got a clear outline of what was expected of her after Christmas break. It was then that Staley sat down the team and described the roles she wanted them to take on.
The challenge Staley has issued for Harris is to not merely blend in, but to be the impact player she is capable of being — even on a roster with two junior guards and two All-American post players.
“She likes to blend a little bit and we don’t like to blend.,” Staley said. “If you’re not an average player, don’t be average. Don’t blend. You want to be the best that you can be, you do that all the time.”
Said Harris: “They told me you know what you are doing and you know all the information, so take change and say what needs to be done. They have confidence in me. I just have to do it.”
It’s a similar challenge to one Staley made to Wilson in her freshman season, so the junior forward sought to help bring Harris along. Now, they have the utmost confidence in her abilities and know she has changed the dynamic for the Gamecocks.
“Teams normally play off of our point guards,” Wilson said. “But with Ty knocking down shots and you don’t know her next move, it really makes you play her and opens up the inside for us.”
What Harris already has done has been impressive. She stepped in and handled what has been asked of her. She earned an All-SEC freshman team selection and helped the Gamecocks win the regular-season and SEC Tournament championships.
Now, her role could increase with senior center Alaina Coates sidelined. But Harris already was readying herself for a tournament where point guard play matters.
On Monday night, Harris heard that message preached as well as ESPN analysts harped on one of the big keys for the Gamecocks being Harris playing efficiently and smartly. Her teammates smacked her on the back as the commentators discussed her play, while she was laser focused on the words being spoken about her.
“We have Ty’s back no matter what,” junior guard Kaela Davis said. “I think she has done a tremendous job of handling everything that comes with not only being a point guard, but being a point guard at this level. She’s doing well.”
So who has the best freshman point guard in the country?
“We can agree to disagree,” said a smiling Davis.