The USC Aiken women’s basketball team got the news on the injury suffered by junior forward Kayla Harris, and it isn’t good.
The preseason All-American has a torn ACL and MCL, suffered in the closing minutes of Wednesday’s 56-50 loss to Clayton State, the Pacers’ only loss this season. Harris is out for the rest of the season, and there’s no timetable for her return set at this time.
USCA (12-1, 5-1 Peach Belt Conference) will play its first game without Harris today at Young Harris College, where the No. 3 team in the country will look to move forward without its leading scorer and rebounder.
“The goal is the same as if we had Kayla – get a win,” Pacer head coach Mike Brandt said Thursday of his team, which leads the PBC East Division by a game over Augusta State. “We’ll have the same focus. Expectations are not going to change.”
That will mean increased production and greater consistency from the rest of the Pacers. There will be no time to mourn Harris’ absence, much less the end of the undefeated season following the loss to Clayton State. USCA will need to show it’s more than a team led by one All-American, and that starts with the player who now becomes its top scorer, Daniela Tarailo. The senior guard is among the top 10 scorers in the PBC, with an average of 14.9 points per game. She becomes the team’s best finisher in half-court scenarios, but far from the only one.
Junior point guard Brittany Hill is a pass-first player but has developed into more of a scorer this season. Senior guard Mia Antoine is established as a defensive stopper but can handle the ball and could be an unexpected source of offense.
But the players bearing the biggest burden filling the roles normally performed by Harris will be Porsha Martin, Tiffani Moody and Mackenzie Reese.
Martin has a very similar skill set to Harris but will need to be more disciplined and consistent. She had a strong showing against Clayton State, posting a double-double with 10 points and 15 rebounds. Moody logged more minutes than her average on the season and pulled down nine rebounds. She’ll definitely be called on to provide solid team defense in Harris’ absence, as will the versatile Reese, who could assume some of the defensive responsibilities Harris held down. Her on-ball performance will be just as important as the points she provides, a total that could go up with more shot opportunities.
They’ll be looking to step up as they go against PBC neophytes Young Harris. In their first season in the league, the Mountain Lions (9-4) have gotten off to a 3-3 start and are tied for fourth place in the PBC West Division.
They’re led by junior forward Ladondra Johnson, who’s the PBC’s top scorer and second-leading rebounder this season. Johnson, the current PBC Player of the Week, is averaging more than 20 points – on a league-best 58.6 shooting percentage – and 8 rebounds per game. She’s coming off a 22-point performance in a win over Columbus State, the second in a row for Young Harris.
No other Young Harris player has a double-digit scoring average, but the team is connecting on a PBC-best 48 percent of its field-goal attempts this season. Conversely, the Mountain Lions are holding opponents to just 36.2 percent shooting from the floor, also the best in the PBC. USCA is a shade behind Young Harris in both of those areas for second place in the PBC.
Without Harris, it could mean the Pacers’ best chance at winning will come via a shutdown defensive performance. But they’ll need to perform better on offense than they did against Clayton State, when the Pacers held the Lakers in check but only connected on 25.9 percent of their shots.
“We need to focus on better execution,” Brandt said. “We’re doing a lot of things right.”
Noah Feit is the sports editor for the Aiken Standard and has been a professional journalist for more than a dozen years after graduating from Syracuse University.
What: USC Aiken women’s basketball
Who: USCA (12-1, 5-1 PBC) at Young Harris (9-4, 3-3 PBC)
Where: YHC Basketball Arena; Young Harris, Ga.
When: Today, 5:30 p.m.
USCA: Porsha Martin, Jr. F. Without the injured Kayla Harris in the lineup, Martin could see her averages of more than six points and four rebounds per game rise as the Pacers’ premier low-post player.
Young Harris: Ladondra Johnson, Jr. F. Johnson’s leading the Mountain Lions in scoring (20.8) and rebounding (8.4) this season, and passed the career 1,000-point milestone in a win over Georgia College.