Date: Thursday, January 5, 2012
Time: 7 p.m.
Location: Columbia, S.C.
Arena: Colonial Life Arena
Tickets: $7 adult, $4 youth (17 & under)
Radio: WISW 1320 AM (Brad Muller and Marcy Girton)
Vanderbilt Series: VU leads 21-6; In Columbia: VU leads 8-4; In Nashville: VU leads 11-2; At Neutral Site: VU leads 2-0
That has been the theme for the 2011-12 South Carolina women's basketball team. It was a team very few predicted would have a successful season. That's why many have been blown away by the 12-2 start that the Gamecocks will take into Thursday night's game against #24 Vanderbilt at the Colonial Life Arena.
"Any time you win it brings a different type of atmosphere," head coach Dawn Staley said Wednesday afternoon. "I think our kids recognize what they do well; from a defensive point they‘ve bought in and they’ve made themselves a pretty decent defensive basketball team. Our offense is starting to catch up to our defense which is a good thing."
That "pretty decent" defensive basketball team is still second in the nation in scoring defense, allowing just 45 points per game this season. No opponent has scored more than 58 points, and eight opponents have been held to 50 points or less.
That defense is going to be put to the test when the Commodores high-flying attack comes to the Colonial Life Arena. Vanderbilt is as gooad as it gets in three-point shooting, connecting on 44% of their 194 attempts. Vandy is averaging 80 points per game and have surpassed 80 points seven times, including scoring more than 90 twice.
Something has to give.
"We’ve been taking care of the three-point line pretty decently, but we do have to make them put the ball on the floor," Staley said. "We can’t give them any open looks from beyond the three. It’s a key that we’ve concentrated on certain teams, but certainly we bring someone in that is number one from behind the three-point line you do have to pay close attention to it."
The Commodore three-point attack is led by Christina Foggie and Jasmine Lister. Foggie has connected on 40-of-80 three-pointers and leads the team in scoring with nearly 18 points per game. Lister is second on the team in scoring with nearly 13 points per game and has connected on 22-of-50 from behind the arc. No other Commodore has attempted more than 22.
Though it's entirely too early in the season to say that any game is a "must-win" but this is a big game for the Gamecocks considering what lies ahead. Winning on the road is difficult in the SEC, and that's exactly where Carolina will be in four of the next five contests. Carolina will travel to Florida Sunday and LSU next Thursday. The lone home game in the stretch is Kentucky next Sunday, and the Wildcats are ranked eleventh in the country. After that, Carolina travels to Auburn and Vanderbilt.
"You want to get wins in this league regardless, but certainly when you’re at home in your comfort of your surroundings, it puts you in a better position to win basketball games but it’s no guarantee," Staley said. "It doesn’t frighten me, but when you see who we have to play the next four out of five games, it makes it more important to win at home."
A win over Vanderbilt would be Carolina's second over a ranked opponent. The Gamecocks beat North Carolina in Myrtle Beach last month, 79-48, and will be looking to extend its current winning streak to seven. It will also be looking to move to 2-0 in SEC play, the first to start 2-0 since the 2001-02 team started SEC play 4-0. That team ended up becoming the first, and only, Carolina team to advance to the Elite Eight of the NCAA Tournament.
"I consider it a game in which we are constantly trying to build our resume," Staley said. "It’s a top 25 team; a very good basketball team. A conference win is an opportunity for us to take care of home (court advantage)."
Carolina is just on the outside looking in of the top 25 entering the week, which is exactly where Staley likes it.
"We leave that to the people who vote," Staley said. "We’re going to keep doing what we’re doing; I think we’ve put ourselves in a position where we’re in conversations. I like kind of going under the radar and maybe having a splash at the end."
A win over Vanderbilt will further show the country what those who follow the program already know; this team is for real.