Chloe Kitts has career game against Maryland: ‘I knew my time was gonna come’

Chloe Kitts has come a long way since December of last year.

One of her first press conferences at South Carolina was after the Charleston Southern game. She sat alongside USC elderstatesman Zia Cooke. Kitts spoke about battling first-game jitters, punctuating answers to questions with the occasional nervous laugh.

But Sunday after the No. 6 Gamecocks defeated the No. 14 Maryland Terrapins 114-76 at Colonial Life Arena, she was the older player sitting alongside freshman Tessa Johnson. Kitts, more experienced this time around, helped Johnson fill in a sentence when she couldn’t think of the right word as they fielded questions from reporters.

“I knew my time was gonna come eventually,” Kitts said after the game. “I just gotta put that work in.”

The game, and the postgame press conference, proved such.

South Carolina head coach Dawn Staley told reporters in September that a new Kitts was in store for the upcoming season. One that wasn’t timid. One that was tough. One that wouldn’t back down from anybody.

Kitts proved Staley right Sunday afternoon, securing her first collegiate double-double with career-high in points (13) and rebounds (10) in the USC victory.

Four of the five spots in South Carolina’s starting lineup have seemed locked in since the preseason (center Kamilla Cardoso and guards Raven Johnson, Bree Hall and Te-Hina Paopao). The forward position? Not so much.

Sania Feagin started there in the Gamecocks exhibition versus the Rutgers Scarlet Knights, but Kitts got the start in Paris versus Notre Dame and in the home opener against Maryland. Staley said Kitts and sophomore Ashlyn Watkins — who had a double-double of her own (13 points and 11 rebounds) and five blocks — have established a sort of friendly competition for the permanent starting spot, which brings out the best in both of them.

So Kitts’ performance Sunday doesn’t necessarily pencil her in her as the Gamecocks’ long-term starting forward. But it did mark a significant point in her career at South Carolina.

Kitts early enrolled at USC in December after being tabbed as the No. 17-ranked recruit in the class of 2023. She played in 18 games last season for a 124 total minutes. Over the summer, she helped the 2023 USA Women’s U19 National Team win a gold medal at the World Cup in Madrid. She averaged 10.7 points, eight rebounds, 1.6 assists and 19.1 minutes during the tournament.

Staley said Kitts’ summer was key for her development. She set and achieved a goal of starting on the U19 team and then brought that same drive back to Columbia. It has waned at times, Staley remarked, but Kitts has regained favor by refocusing on the details.

“She’s doing a little things and finding spots in our offense to score the ball,” Staley said. “So she’s creating great balance with what she’s doing.”

Kitts made the most of her opportunity Sunday, fighting for loose balls, battling for buckets and dominating the boards.

With 5:30 left in the third quarter, Kitts set a new personal best for points scored in a game with 13 (up from her previous record of 10 versus Charleston Southern in 2022) and rebounds with 10 (her previous best was seven, also against Charleston Southern last year).

“She’s been steadily getting good at what she does,” Staley said.