**Story by Jeff Owens/Photo by Jenny Dilworth**
STOCKTON, Calif. — South Carolina got a scare last week when it had to rally to beat Arizona State in the second round of the NCAA Tournament. But the most frightening moment came late in the fourth quarter when star guard Allisha Gray had to be carried off the court.
Gray tweaked her hamstring, but the way she was limping and having to be carried off the floor, her teammates and Gamecock fans feared the worst.
"I was very worried," forward A'ja Wilson said. "Allisha is like my best friend, she is my sister, so it was kinda tough seeing her go through it and looking over at the bench and her eyes are all red and she's crying and I'm like, 'Girl, you've got to get it together.'"
Gray admits she was scared at first as well. Though she knew she had not re-injured her knee — an injury that caused her to miss her senior season of high school — she immediately feared the worst.
"I was scared, to be honest," she said. "I was nervous. I was so excited, it's NCAA tournament time and this is what you play for, and I didn't want to miss it."
Gray and her teammates and Gamecock Nation can rest easy. She has practiced all week and said Thursday at Stockton Arena that she feels good and is ready to play Saturday afternoon in the Sweet 16 against Quinnipiac. She described the injury as a "bad muscle-spasm cramp."
"She's ready to go," head coach Dawn Staley said before her team hit the floor for practice Thursday.
"I knew it was going to be OK," Wilson said. "Allisha is a solider, she's tough. It was good to see her back on the court and doing something she loves."
Gray, a transfer from North Carolina, has been a key contributor for South Carolina all season, averaging 12.8 points, 4.7 rebounds and 2.6 assists per game. She has scored in double figures in 25 of 33 games, second on the team.
She has been particularly big in the SEC and NCAA tournaments with the Gamecocks missing senior center Alaina Coates. Gray had 22 points and 12 rebounds in the first round against UNC Asheville and added 11 points and eight rebounds against Arizona State.
While the whole team has had to focus more on rebounding without Coates, who averaged a double-double, it is Gray, a 6-0 guard, who has had the biggest impact on the boards.
"Everybody had to come together and rebound, and everybody had to contribute a little bit more," Gray said. "I am definitely going to the boards more now. We have to rebound now with her out."
Gray's versatility and willingness to fill in wherever needed is a big reason she has been successful at South Carolina. She averaged 15.2 points and 7.6 rebounds per game at North Carolina and was an All-ACC player, scoring more than 1,000 points in her two seasons.
A native of Sandersville, Ga., she transferred to South Carolina to be closer to home, to play for Staley and to be part of something special. She knew she would have to expand her game to contribute with All-American's like Wilson and Coates on the roster.
"I just had to get better in other aspects of my game, like rebounding, and pay attention to more detail," she said. "You know every night you are not going to go out and have a 20-point game so you have to do other things to help the team out rather than just trying to score 20 points every night. You just have to play the flow of the game."
Both Gray and Kaela Davis, a transfer from Georgia Tech, have adapted well to playing complimentary roles on a national power used to winning. With Wilson and Coates, the Gamecocks have won four straight SEC championships and three straight SEC tournaments. This is their fourth straight trip to the Sweet 16.
Staley said both players targeted South Carolina when they decided to leave their respective schools and made the decision on their own.
"They were looking for something a little bit different. And when you're looking for something a little bit different, you're more apt to embrace whatever role that you're given," she said. "And they have done it, you know, with incredible pride."
Davis, the No. 1 guard and No. 2 player in the nation coming out of high school, led the ACC in scoring before transferring. She has averaged 12.1 points per game this season, fourth on the team at South Carolina.
"Kaela is used to having a ball in her hands," Staley said. "At Georgia Tech, she probably had the ball in her hands 90 percent of the time. .. And that's hard. That's a big adjustment.
"Allisha is probably a little bit different in that. She just takes what the defense gives her, and she embraces her role and she doesn't have very much to say. She's just one that wants to go out and compete and win no matter what. The way that they have transitioned into our program is they embrace their roles. They embrace playing with other great players."
Now they have a chance to be part of something special, and perhaps make a little history.
"For me personally, it wasn't hard to make the decision to come to South Carolina and be a part of that, because I think Coach and the staff here, they are on to something really special," Davis said. "It's a blessing just to be able to be a part of it and hopefully be able to just kind of write our own small little part in history of South Carolina women's basketball."