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February 23, 2012

WBB: Gamecocks trying to play spoiler again

NO. 13 KENTUCKY WILDCATS (22-5, 11-3)

When: 7 p.m. today
Where: Memorial Coliseum, Lexington, Ky.
TV: None
Tickets: Available at the box office
South Carolina's probable starters: G Ieasia Walker 5-8 Jr. (7.9 ppg, 4.1 rpg); G La'Keisha Sutton 5-8 Sr. (10.1 ppg, 2.7 rpg); G Markeisha Grant 5-6 Sr. (11.3 ppg, 2.6 rpg); F Courtney Newton 5-9 Sr. (0.6 ppg, 1.6 rpg); F Charenee Stephens 6-0 Sr. (4.6 ppg, 4.9 rpg)
Kentucky's probable starters: G A'dia Mathies 5-9 Jr. (15.2 ppg, 5.3 rpg); G Bria Goss 5-10 Fr. (11.6 ppg, 4.2 rpg); G Kastine Evans 5-8 So. (7.0 ppg, 3.8 rpg); G Maegan Conwright 5-8 So. (4.1 ppg, 1.7 rpg); F Samarie Walker 6-1 Jr. (8.4 ppg, 6.4 rpg)
Notes: South Carolina finishes its final regular-season road trip of the season. … Kentucky leads the series 29-18, including a win earlier this year in Columbia. … The Wildcats are holding their Senior Night. UK has won six of the last eight Senior Nights and is seeking the third undefeated home season in school history. … USC has not won 21 regular-season games since 2002-03. … USC is also seeking its ninth road win, which would be the most since 1987-88. … Stephens needs three rebounds to move into 22nd place on the career chart. … Aleighsa Welch, who started the last two games, will not play after spraining her knee against Alabama. She may be able to play on Sunday.
Next up: South Carolina hosts Arkansas at 2 p.m. on Sunday to finish the regular season.

In two weeks, South Carolina will likely be where it wants to be. Where it's wanted to be and expected to be ever since Dawn Staley showed up four years ago.

In two weeks. There are still two regular-season games to play, plus the SEC tournament, to make the prize at the end of those two weeks more solid, more comfortable.

The Gamecocks, holders of the 24-hour rule all season long, aren't getting ahead of themselves.

"I think just staying together and focusing on what coach is telling us, trusting what she's saying," senior Markeisha Grant said, describing the team's approach for the next two weeks. "She has all the tools, we just have to embrace them and go into the game with confidence."

With a 20-7 record (9-5 SEC), the Gamecocks are thought to be assured of an NCAA tournament berth, but want to be sure. The only way to do that is to keep winning, which can begin tonight as USC is back on the road at No. 13 Kentucky.

The Wildcats beat USC 66-58 in Columbia on Jan. 15, and used their aggressive trapping defense to force 28 turnovers. Kentucky is trying to stay atop the SEC with Tennessee and hasn't lost on its home court all year.

But USC isn't fazed. The way the Gamecocks see it, they've been silencing doubters all season with their ways of winning in tough situations.

"We've been in that situation with Vandy," Staley said, alluding to the fact that the Commodores hadn't lost at home before USC beat them on Jan. 22. "Tennessee posed another one, where we hadn't won in 32 years there. We've got experiences to draw on with that type of situation."

The Gamecocks are currently in a four-team logjam for third place in the SEC, and trying to win enough so that they can earn one of the four first-round byes in next week's SEC tournament. USC would currently be out of the top four due to losing to every other team it's tied with, but if it can win and get some help, it can rise into a situation of taking it easy on March 1 instead of playing.

Those chances are good, if USC can win. Arkansas is at Tennessee tonight while LSU hosts Vanderbilt, which could knock the Razorbacks and Tigers a game behind if the Gamecocks can beat the Wildcats. Kentucky doesn't appear nearly as unstoppable as it did in the early season, after a 10-0 SEC start became three losses in the past four games.

USC will have to turn its defense loose on star scorer A'dia Mathies, then hold onto the ball. Grant and La'Keisha Sutton have been the offensive stalwarts lately, and the Gamecocks know they will be without third-leading scorer Aleighsa Welch due to a knee injury, so the keys of holding onto the ball and making sure it finds the hole are fully in USC's minds.

The Gamecocks have fought all season to get in position for the next two weeks, and have achieved it. Now to make that position more stable for when they finally arrive.

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

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