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February 2, 2012

WBB: USC heads to Tennessee

VIDEO: Dawn Staley


When: 7 p.m. today
Where: Thompson-Boling Arena, Knoxville, Tenn.
Tickets: Available at the box office
South Carolina's probable starters: G Ieasia Walker 5-8 Jr. (7.4 ppg, 4.1 rpg); G La'Keisha Sutton 5-8 Sr. (9.9 ppg, 2.5 rpg); G Markeisha Grant 5-6 Sr. (10.3 ppg, 2.7 rpg); G Courtney Newton 5-9 Sr. (0.6 ppg, 1.7 rpg); F Charenee Stephens 6-0 Sr. (4.8 ppg, 4.6 rpg)
Tennessee's probable starters: G Ariel Massengale 5-6 Fr. (7.9 ppg, 2.6 rpg); G Meighan Simmons 5-9 So. (10.8 ppg, 2.4 rpg); G/F Shekinna Stricklen 6-2 Sr. (15.4 ppg, 6.3 rpg); F Glory Johnson 6-3 Sr. (13.5 ppg, 9.4 rpg); F/C Vicki Baugh 6-4 Sr. (8.9 ppg, 7.6 rpg)
Notes: South Carolina takes a three-game winning streak on the road for four games over the next six. … The Gamecocks are 6-3 on the true road this season, with another victory on a neutral court. … USC moved up a spot in the rankings this week, although the Gamecocks are still not in the Top 25. USC went from 29th to 28th and received 48 votes this week. … The Gamecocks lost to No. 9 Kentucky earlier this season. The highest-ranked team that coach Dawn Staley has beaten in her tenure is No. 14 Georgia two years ago. … USC hasn't beaten a Top-10 team since the 2001-02 season. … Tennessee and USC are currently in second and third place, respectively, in the SEC standings.
Next up: South Carolina tips off at Arkansas at 8 p.m. on Feb. 9.

Of course it's intimidating. It would be hard not to be. Walk into any place where there are several national championship banners hanging (including one where your coach was on the losing end for one of them), and it's intimidating.


"We've been there, done that," coach Dawn Staley dismissed. "I told them it's time to play basketball, and not think about anything but winning the basketball game."

South Carolina, seeking to start the crucial month of February with a win to keep its sterling season headed toward the NCAA tournament, is preparing to play its annual albatross match. Tonight, the Gamecocks (17-5, 6-3 SEC), tip off at No. 8 Tennessee (16-5, 7-1).

It's been one of the most lopsided series in the country. USC has beaten the Lady Volunteers once in its history, that coming in 1980, and since then, has lost a whopping 40 straight. As Staley said following USC's last game, a rout of Mississippi State, playing Tennessee is playing tradition.

But tradition only goes so far.

"I basically told them, the time is now," Staley said, repeating the mantra that has been with her team since the preseason.

"Tradition," senior captain La'Keisha Sutton answered when asked what Tennessee means to her. "But we've played them before pretty close and we're all excited about this game."

The Gamecocks are on a three-game winning streak and would like to make that four. A win over Tennessee would push USC well over the bubble for NCAA tournament consideration, making it much easier to have a toe-stub or two later on.

To do that, the Gamecocks will have to employ the same plan as they did against MSU. Posts Charenee Stephens, Ashley Bruner and Aleighsa Welch pushed the Bulldogs' height out of the lane and negated their efforts, and they'll need to do that again against the Lady Vols' skyscraping lineup.

Freshman Elem Ibiam could also be called on, after she has progressed into more and more minutes as the season has gone on. She brings a different style of offense to the floor, more of a classic big-woman mentality rather than the scrappy style of Welch, Bruner and Stephens.

"I just need to be aggressive," Ibiam said. "I try to be a presence in the post, take some of the pressure off the other players on the glass."

If USC can limit Tennessee's second-chance points and keep its fast-break offense alive, perhaps that can turn into an 18th win that would be worth so many more games.

As Staley said, the time is now.

NOTES: Staley and her coaching staff will present a check to Tennessee coach Pat Summitt before the game, in support of her foundation that is fighting Alzheimer's disease. The check, intended to be for $20,000, is close to that amount and has been helped by a "big check" from football coach Steve Spurrier and donations from the men's basketball staff. … Senior Courtney Newton didn't practice on Tuesday due to a lingering concussion, sustained two games ago. She is day-to-day. Ashley Bruner started in Newton's place against Mississippi State and would likely do it again if Newton isn't cleared tonight.

Just because SIGNING DAY is over doesn't mean our coverage of the big day stops. We have more analysis of USC's 2012 signing class, plus all of our normal content on GamecockCentral.com. Don't miss a thing with our 7-day FREE TRIAL.

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