South Carolina's Amihere knows all about perseverance
SAN ANTONIO — Luckily for South Carolina women's basketball, Laeticia Amihere is stubborn.
That's how coach Dawn Staley makes sense of it. How else can you explain Amihere, an extraordinarily gifted natural athlete, persevering through not one but two torn ACLs in quick succession?
How else can you account for her sticking with the Gamecocks, even as she played a full season off the bench with a heavy knee brace that limited her explosiveness?
How else, when she once more was asked to come off the bench this season, while the rest of her elite recruiting class started for the Gamecocks?
"I'm super happy for her because she stayed there with us. A lot of people would have been disgruntled," Staley acknowledged. "A lot of people probably would have been thinking about transferring, probably would have got leaked out."
Now, in part thanks to that stubbornness, South Carolina is back in the Elite Eight.
In USC's Sweet 16 matchup with Georgia Tech on Sunday, Amihere was vital, tallying 15 points in a game where All-American Aliyah Boston was unusually quiet. Amihere also chipped in seven rebounds, one assist and one steal, the finest performance yet in a tournament where she has become South Carolina's top option off the bench with the injury to senior guard LeLe Grissett.
"Her stubbornness also allows her to stay focused and to stay confident," Staley said. "We didn't know what this year was going to end up being. I do believe that L.A. is a player that needs to be needed. She needs to be needed, she needs to know a consistent game plan knowing that she's going to get in the game."
Amihere's first two seasons have been up and down — she's flashed enormous potential, like when she tallied 12 points, 13 rebounds and two steals against Kentucky. But she's also struggled with turnovers and efficiency, with 2.3 giveaways per game and a 39.5% field goal rate.
In the NCAA Tournament, she's been much more effective, shooting 56% from the field and averaging 11.3 points and 8 rebounds per contest. In fact, she's been so good that Staley admitted she wished she had played her differently in the regular season.
"I think as a coach, as I reflect on how she's played this year, and I look at how she's playing now, I probably should have did something a little bit different," Staley said. "And granted we're in a pandemic. We had a shortened season. So we didn't have any fluff into your schedule to kind of experiment.
"We did experiment very early on in the year with actually playing her at the three and playing her on the perimeter. I just thought that took away from her focus. ... But having her play both on the perimeter and in the post has really helped her confidence."
There's a source behind all that confidence, focus and stubbornness. Amihere's godmother and family friend, Olga Lambert, was recently diagnosed with cancer for the fourth time, according to her GoFundMe page.
Amihere has posted about Lambert's strength on social media, and seeing it up close, she said, inspires her.
"I think she's just a pillar of perseverance," Amihere said. "I mean, I wrote on my shoe, to play for her. But she's a pillar of perseverance. Whenever I know I'm tired, I'll tap my shoe. Just gives me a boost of confidence.
"Whenever I was going through injuries, whenever I was going through something that was tough during basketball, I just remember her resilience. That would just give me automatic boost, automatic power to just keep going."
Moving forward, Amihere might not have to score quite as much in the Elite Eight if Boston returns to form. But regardless, she's ready to do whatever Staley needs her to do, just as she has for two years now.
"I just think it's important to come out whenever my name's called," Amihere said. "Coach trusts me to go out there and put in the work, so I have to be able to deliver whatever she needs me to do at that time. I have to be able to do that."