Date: Sunday, January 29, 2012
Time: 2 p.m.
Location: Columbia, S.C.
Arena: Colonial Life Arena
Tickets: $7 adult, $4 youth (17 & under)
TV: SEC Network; (Cara Capuano and Abby Waner); In Columbia airs on WKTC My 63 (TWC Ch. 4)
Radio: WISW 1320 AM (Brad Muller and Marcy Girton); GamecocksOnline.com
Live Stats: GamecocksOnline.com
Mississippi State Series: MSU leads 16-10; In Columbia: SC leads 7-5; In Starkville: MSU leads 9-3; At Neutral Site: MSU leads 2-0
The 16-5 (5-3 SEC) South Carolina women’s basketball team returns to action Sunday when it closes out its two-game homestand against the two conference foes from Mississippi. The Gamecocks defeated Mississippi, 61-43, Thursday night and will face Mississippi State Sunday afternoon. A win would move Carolina to just one game shy of its 18 wins last season, the most in the Dawn Staley era.
“We just continue to try and prepare,” Staley said Saturday. “I think our players have some energy now; I think the morale is a little different just because we got some wins and we’re doing it the right way.”
After losing three straight games to LSU, Kentucky, and Auburn the Gamecocks went to Nashville last Sunday and became the first team to beat the Commodores in their arena this season prior to its win over Ole Miss. Carolina has used its 24-hour rule to flush wins and losses to overcome its three-game losing streak.
“Our kids have really focused on one game at a time and that’s been our focus all year long,” Staley said. “Unfortunately we did have a slip-up when we lost three games in a row. We just want to think about the good right now and we’re feeling pretty good about ourselves.”
South Carolina used some hot shooting behind the arc, led by La’Keisha Sutton’s new career-high five three-pointers, to jump out to a huge halftime lead over the Rebels and overcame a late rally to cruise to the victory. Staley hopes to see more of the hot shooting against the Bulldogs.
“Continue to try and score within our offense,” Staley said of what she hopes to see. “I think that’s the main thing. We know we can operate when the shot clock is down. We want to see if we can capitalize on our players’ ability to shoot the ball in the moment and make big plays.”
Despite have the nation’s second-best scoring defense, the Gamecocks have struggled to put the ball in the basket for much of the season. Carolina is tenth in the SEC in scoring, averaging 61 points per game.
“It’s been a problem overall,” Staley said. “I think we kind of wait (to shoot). We put plays in and we show them all the options. I think they try and go through all the options before they’re really looking to take a good shot. We kind of try to retrain them to think in the moment, and we want to capitalize on people shooting the ball really well.”
Despite being one of the smallest teams in the league, Carolina is second in the league in rebound margin behind Tennessee. That will be tested by a MSU team that has five players on its roster taller than South Carolina’s tallest player that sees significant playing time, Aleighsa Welch. The Bulldogs will also challenge the Gamecock guards as its two highest scoring players, Diamber Johnson (17 ppg) and Porsha Porter (13 ppg), are both guards.
“They’re a huge challenge,” Staley said. “They’re going to test our ball-screen defense, they have some tremendous guards that can score off the bounce, they can shoot it from the outside, and there’s a height disadvantage on our part in the post. We have to bear down and play disciplined basketball. Hopefully we can get a good crowd in here and they’ll help us win a basketball game.”
Staley’s best medicine for defending height? Do not let it become a factor.
“The best medicine for it is to use your speed,” Staley said. “We have some speed, but then we just try and get into taller players’ shots; we try and get into their bodies a little bit and try and disrupt the flow of how they shoot from a technical standpoint. Big people don’t really like when you’re up against them so we just try and get under their skin a little bit and play beneath them than above them.”
Courtney Newton, one of Carolina’s best defenders, is questionable for Sunday’s game after suffering a blow to her head in Thursday’s game.
“She’s a little banged up today,” Staley said. “We’re just going to take it day-by-day; hopefully we can get her back pretty soon. She didn’t practice today so we’ll see how she feels tomorrow.”