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March 3, 2013
FLORIDA GATORS (17-12, 6-9 SEC)
NO. 14 SOUTH CAROLINA GAMECOCKS (22-6, 10-5)
When: 1 p.m. today
Where: Colonial Life Arena, Columbia
Tickets: Available at the box office
Florida's probable starters: G Jaterra Bonds 5-7 Jr. (12.4 ppg, 3.8 rpg); G Sydney Moss 5-11 Fr. (10.0 ppg, 6.3 rpg); G/F Lily Svete 6-2 Jr. (5.4 ppg, 1.9 rpg); F Jennifer George 6-0 Sr. (12.0 ppg, 8.1 rpg); F Christin Mercer 6-0 Fr. (6.3 ppg, 4.0 rpg)
South Carolina's probable starters: G Ieasia Walker 5-8 Sr. (9.3 ppg, 4.1 rpg); G Sancheon White 5-10 Sr. (4.7 ppg, 4.0 rpg); G Khadijah Sessions 5-8 Fr. (5.8 ppg, 1.4 rpg); F Aleighsa Welch 6-0 So. (12.1 ppg, 7.8 rpg); F Ashley Bruner 6-0 Sr. (9.4 ppg, 7.5 rpg)
Notes: South Carolina concludes its regular season and will begin the SEC tournament as the fifth seed, no matter what. The Gamecocks won the first game this year, 52-44, in Gainesville. USC can set a program-high for single-season SEC wins with a victory, as well as keep coach Dawn Staley's streak of improving her SEC win total in every season at USC intact. USC can also get within three games of making sure that Staley can improve her overall win total as well. USC can tie the program's single-season record of 23 wins. Walker leads the league with 2.9 steals per conference game. Sessions is averaging 12 points per game since becoming a starter. Florida leads the series 20-11 but USC has won the last three. USC's Senior Day ceremony is set to begin at 12:45 p.m.
Next game: USC will start play in the SEC tournament at 2:30 p.m. on Thursday against an opponent to be determined.
Only two games after Dawn Staley said that her offense was peaking, she had to drastically re-assess. Fourteenth-ranked South Carolina, on the cusp of the postseason, won but played a bad second half against Mississippi State, then went on the road and lost to Missouri, when a win (provided with some help today) could have pushed the Gamecocks into that desired No. 4 seed for the SEC tournament.
This all came after a bye week, when USC (22-6, 10-5 SEC) seemed set to be at its best heading into its second straight NCAA tournament, after another top-six appearance in the SEC tournament.
"Beats the hell out of me," Staley said in a video press conference on Friday.
That said a lot. USC should be playing at its best right now. There should not be any questions. After today's regular-season finale, the Gamecocks head to Duluth, Ga., for the SEC tournament, hoping that the national No. 4 seed projections will be accurate afterward. Now is not the time to be fixing things, especially when at today's game against Florida, seniors Ashley Bruner, Ieasia Walker and Sancheon White will be honored.
This game won't mean anything to SEC tournament standings, but it will mean whether or not USC goes into the tournament having won three of its last four, or having lost four of its last six. It's all about momentum now that the calendar has flipped to March. Staley knows that, and illustrated the point during practice.
"We won't know until Sunday afternoon," she said, as to whether it worked. "Certainly, we got their attention here in practice today."
"We have to pick it up a lot quicker," Walker said. "Every game counts, especially with the SEC tournament right around the corner. We don't want to have any lapses."
Staley characterized the struggles as perhaps USC overlooking Missouri, thinking that the Tigers' lowly record was going to make the game a gimme. She thought that since the Tigers hung Tennessee's only SEC loss on it at that same court, it wouldn't be an issue.
Maybe it was, maybe not. But the Gamecocks weren't on top of their game.
"It wasn't really our offense, it was our energy level," Staley said. "We got out-played, and that's something that doesn't happen very often. We can fix that fairly easily."
What can't is getting the minds right. USC is playing another opponent it should beat today, at home. But then again, perhaps overlooking an opponent once will prevent it from happening again.
"If their mindset is that this is an easy game, it's hard to combat that," Staley said. "Sometimes that's a hard lesson."
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