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November 28, 2012
DREXEL DRAGONS (4-1)
SOUTH CAROLINA GAMECOCKS (7-0)
When: 7 p.m. today
Where: Colonial Life Arena, Columbia
Tickets: Available at the box office
Drexel's probable starters: G Meghan Creighton 5-7 Fr. (5.4 ppg, 2.4 rpg); G Hollie Mershon 5-10 Sr. (19.0 ppg, 6.2 rpg); G/F Fiona Flanagan 5-10 Jr. (3.8 ppg, 3.0 rpg); F Nicki Jones 6-2 Sr. (9.8 ppg, 6.6 rpg); F Taylor Wootton 6-1 Sr. (6.0 ppg, 4.4 rpg)
South Carolina's probable starters: G Ieasia Walker 5-8 Sr. (9.3 ppg, 3.6 rpg); G Sancheon White 5-10 Sr. (6.4 ppg, 5.0 rpg); G Tiffany Mitchell 5-7 Fr. (9.9 ppg, 6.6 rpg); F Aleighsa Welch 6-0 So. (11.7 ppg, 9.6 rpg); F Ashley Bruner 6-0 Sr. (12.4 ppg, 7.6 rpg)
Notes: South Carolina returns home for a one-game stand, after winning its second tournament title under coach Dawn Staley. The Gamecocks are second in the nation in rebounding margin (plus-20.6) and have two of the SEC's Top-10 rebounders (Welch and Bruner). Bruner leads the SEC in field-goal percentage (55.7). Welch has three double-doubles this season. USC has not been 8-0 since 2002-03. The longest season-opening winning streak in school history is 10, set by the 1981-82 team on the way to the school's first Sweet 16 appearance. USC leads the all-time series 1-0, having begun it last year. Drexel beat Providence, LaSalle, Missouri-Kansas City and Colgate while losing to St. Joseph's. The Gamecocks received 15 votes in this week's Associated Press Top 25 and are ranked No. 24 in this week's USA Today/ESPN Top 25.
Next game: USC tips off at Seton Hall at 2 p.m. on Sunday.
The best thing about it is that even though the team has a lot of youth, nobody's getting too excited. The record is great, but there is a long, long way to go.
No sense getting too happy.
"I think this bunch has a lot of energy," senior guard Ieasia Walker said on Tuesday. "There's a lot of new people, just really hyperactive and exciting. Everybody's excited about this season and trying to beat expectations that we had from last year. Being 7-0 is a great accomplishment but we're not complacent."
The Gamecocks, back in Columbia with the Reef Division championship of the Paradise Jam, are right back on the horse after three games in three days and then a long flight home. Practice was naturally sluggish on Tuesday, after getting back into the grind of school, but USC (7-0) feels good about picking up the ball again and preparing to play Drexel (4-1) tonight.
USC fought through tough competition and sometimes-freezing shooting at a neutral court to win in the Virgin Islands, and headed back home looking to keep it going. The Gamecocks will only have one more road game before SEC play begins - on Sunday at Seton Hall - and figure that the rest of their non-conference slate should result in a very pretty record. A Dec. 19 game against No. 1 Stanford looms, naturally, but there are three games before that, starting tonight.
The Gamecocks are already starting to pick up national notice, gaining 11 more votes in The Associated Press Top 25 than they did last week and being ranked No. 24 in the USA Today/ESPN Top 25. Despite a nine-woman roster, USC is playing physical, fast-paced basketball, running past opponents and unleashing a devastating post game.
With forwards Aleighsa Welch and Ashley Bruner handling the scoring load and also leading on defense, coach Dawn Staley has had the time to work in her newcomers and set her rotations. It has helped that USC has been a monster on the glass, overwhelming opponents with its rebounding prowess.
"I like our team. I do like our team. They have great personalities," Staley said. "But what I really like that jumps off the page is that we're rebounding. We're out-rebounding our opponents by a considerable amount.
"That means we're getting the hustle plays, and we've emphasized that since we got together in August. It can have some trickle effect in other areas, like the free throws."
That has been the glaring constant in USC's season. The Gamecocks are a horrid 53.2 percent from the line as a team, which is why the last part of Tuesday's practice was spent rotating the players through the stripe.
With Bruner and Welch playing so well in the paint, making free throws can only help. Bruner in particular had a bad time at the Paradise Jam, going a combined 3-for-19 in the three games, while Welch was 9-for-15.
It can only go up (Staley hopes). The rest of the team is already playing at a high level, though, in every other facet.
"I think the Virgin Islands prepared us for this situation, in having short turnover," Staley said. "I think this team is ready to play. They get up and get ready to play the games."
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