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Rock Island graduate Brea Beal showing she is more than a scorer at South Carolina

Rock Island graduate Brea Beal showing she is more than a scorer at South Carolina

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For four seasons, the Rock Island girls' basketball team counted on Brea Beal to score points — more than 2,500 of them. What not many noticed was Beal was really good on the defensive end.

Heck, even her new coach, South Carolina's Dawn Staley, did not know that.

Now, the entire nation knows that the 6-foot-1 freshman is one of the better defenders in all of NCAA Division I women's basketball.

"Everyone comes onto a new team you have an idea of what you realistically want to be," Beal said. "I scored 24 points a game, so I wanted to be a scorer. I also know that there has to be multiple people to win games. I had to find my role and I know that defense wins games.

"It was just about me spending a lot of time understanding how to know the personnel on the court and what they want to do. When it's a great shooter, I want to move them to spots they don't want to shoot from."

When Staley got her team together, which included a freshman class that was No. 1 in the nation, she was not sure how her team's defense would look. She found out quickly, and Beal became the shutdown defender.

"I didn't know if we would be a zone team or a man-to-man team on defense," Staley said. "We were assessing things and my assistants said we had to play man and that's when we started to up the ante. I wasn't sure Brea could go up and down the court on defense but she proved me wrong.

"What I noticed first though is of the freshmen, she was the best listener. She retains everything and she executes. She also has an incredible competitiveness about her. When anyone scores on her she takes it personally. She has been a gift for us."

Beal is averaging 6.7 points and 6.6 rebounds per game this season, starting all 18 contests for the top-ranked team in the nation. She obviously wishes she was scoring more but she's loving life in South Carolina.

"Sometimes I think if I'm making defensive plays and getting boards, that's what wins games," she said. "At the same time, there is a part of my mindset that says 'I scored 24-plus points a game in high school and I'm getting three or four shots in some games ... that's different.'

"I still know I can score and I just need to keep working on finding the shots better. Right now, I'm not getting in those positions to make a play but I am finding ways to help on both ends. What you have to understand is in college, especially here, everyone is a high school star and not everyone has to carry the load."

Staley is not at all worried about Beal's point production. That will come with time.

"It's not that we don't want Brea to score but we also know that sometimes that doesn't click in right away," Staley said. "The fact that she plays defense the way she does as her strength is big. When the scoring comes along, she is going to be something else.

"The offense usually comes last for young players and we will start in the offseason by changing her shot. Brea wants to be better and she is willing to put in the work. The shots she is missing now are shots she made (at Rock Island) and ones we have seen her make in practices."

The Gamecocks take a 17-1 record into Monday night's game against No. 10 Mississippi State. The team was expected to be very good but very few, including Staley, thought it would happen this soon. Only a loss to Indiana keeps them from a perfect record and they are averaging wins by 27.1 points per game.

"I didn't think we would come together this quick," Staley said. "I'm very fortunate that every one of our freshmen just wants to win. Like Brea taking on that defensive leadership role, they don't care who is doing what, they just want to do whatever it takes to win."

Likewise, Beal gives a ton of credit for Staley, a high-energy coach who loves to have fun but is also quick to make sure her players are doing things the right way.

"When you see her dancing during practice in videos on Twitter, what you see is what you get," Beal said. "She has a love for coaching and for her team. At the same time, if you are not doing what you are supposed to be doing, she'll be right on you.

"What she does for me is keep me relaxed and let the game come to me. They know I want to score but the coaches always keep me confident."

And while she gets that scoring going, she'll just shut down the opponent's top defender and be the second-leading rebounder on the No. 1 team in the nation.

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Jeff is a sports reporter for Dispatch-Argus-QCOnline.com.

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