As the calendar turns to a new year, college basketball teams turn their attention to conference play across the nation.
One Rome native will be part of that flip in the schedule, and she’s helping her top-5 nationally-ranked team roll into the Southeastern Conference portion of the season with some confidence.
Victaria Saxton is in the middle of her sophomore season playing for the No. 4 South Carolina Gamecocks, just a little over a year and a half removed from playing for Model and graduating as the school’s all-time leading scorer.
The 6-foot-2 forward has had plenty of key moments this season coming off the bench as Carolina has racked up a 12-1 record before opening conference play Thursday night hosting No. 13 Kentucky.
The game is scheduled to tip off at 7 p.m. and will be broadcast on the SEC Network.
Saxton has played in all 13 games this season for the Gamecocks, averaging 14.8 minutes per game. She has 74 total points and 44 rebounds, an average of 5.7 points and 3.4 boards per game.
Even coming off the bench Saxton has 10 steals and 11 blocks so far, which ties her for fourth on the team and in the top 20 in the SEC. She is 31-of-49 (63.3%) from the field and 12-of-26 in free throws.
The former Lady Blue Devil had a solid week in mid-November when she scored in double digits in back-to-back games against Dayton and Appalachian State. She scored 13 points against Dayton and 10 against Appalachian State. Defensively, she blocked seven shots over the two games, and had six rebounds in each outing.
On Sunday against South Dakota in a top-25 matchup, Saxton hit a jumper to start a 12-3 run for South Carolina in the first quarter and then came on in the third to help the Gamecocks take a 20-point lead. Carolina won 73-60, and Saxton finished with eight points and four rebounds in 17 minutes of action.
South Carolina is on a six game winning streak, with its only loss coming to No. 14 Indiana in the Paradise Jam in St. Thomas on Thanksgiving Day. The Gamecocks fell 71-57 to the Hoosiers.
Carolina finished its time in the Virgin Islands with back-to-back wins, including a 74-59 victory over then-No. 2 Baylor. Saxton had a pair of steals and two points in the contest against the reigning national champions.
The Gamecocks also upset then-No. 4 Maryland, 63-54, in early November and have posted key wins over ACC teams Clemson and Duke.
South Carolina begins SEC play as the No. 4 team according to the Associated Press top-25 poll and received one first place vote in the most recent AP rankings. UConn is currently in the top spot along with Oregon and Oregon State second and third, respectively.
The team is tied for first in the SEC standings with No. 11 Texas A&M and No. 20 Arkansas. Kentucky (11-1) comes into Columbia after pulling out a 63-61 win over California in its last game on Dec. 21. South Carolina undefeated this season at home at 6-0.
Saxton, a four-time Rome News-Tribune Girls’ Player or Co-Player of the Year, played in 28 of 33 games her freshman season, including starting against Kentucky in February. She was named to the SEC All-Freshman Team after averaging 4.9 points, 3.4 rebounds and one block in league play.