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March 17, 2012

WBB: USC begins NCAA tournament today


What: NCAA women's tournament, first round
When: 11:05 a.m. today
Where: Mackey Arena, West Lafayette, Ind.
Tickets: Available at the box office
Eastern Michigan's probable starters: G Tavelyn James 5-7 Sr. (24.2 ppg, 2.8 rpg); G Desyree Thomas 5-7 So. (5.6 ppg, 2.9 rpg); G/F Natachia Watkins 5-10 So. (12.7 ppg, 2.6 rpg); F Paige Redditt 6-1 Sr. (10.5 ppg, 8.1 rpg); F Olivia Fouty 5-11 So. (8.7 ppg, 8.2 rpg
South Carolina's probable starters: G Ieasia Walker 5-8 Jr. (7.8 ppg, 4.1 rpg); G La'Keisha Sutton 5-8 Sr. (10.4 ppg, 2.8 rpg); G Markeisha Grant 5-6 Sr. (10.8 ppg, 2.6 rpg); F Courtney Newton 5-9 Sr. (0.7 ppg, 1.7 rpg); F Charenee Stephens 6-0 Sr. (4.9 ppg, 5.1 rpg)
Notes: South Carolina is in the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2002-03. … Eastern Michigan makes its second appearance. … EMU reserve Miranda Tate, who is ineligible this year after transferring from Providence, was a member of Dawn Staley's first recruiting class at USC and a cousin of Sutton's. … The Eagles are from the Mid-American Conference and will play USC for the first time in program history. … USC will make its ninth NCAA appearance. The Gamecocks are 8-8 in previous trips with one Elite Eight berth. … Sutton and Grant were named to honorable mention All-SEC. … USC is fourth in the nation in scoring defense.
Next up: The winner plays the winner of Purdue and South Dakota State at 7 p.m. on Monday.

Charenee Stephens said that Thursday's practice was a little different than usual. There was raised intensity.

There should have been. South Carolina has been going at the same pace all season, waiting for this moment, and would naturally raise the level because it's finally here.

Four years of hard work, steady improvement and belief has resulted in the Gamecocks' first NCAA tournament appearance since 2002-03. USC plays Eastern Michigan at 11:05 a.m. today in West Lafayette, Ind., attempting to keep the train rolling and again proving that the season's motto, "The Time is Now," is accurate.

"We've been going hard," Stephens said. "Coach is in a different mindset right now. We haven't been here. She hasn't been here with us."

They're not satisfied, either, with just getting to the tournament. USC has won games all season when it hadn't won those kinds of games in previous seasons. While the Gamecocks are at least predicted to beat the Eagles and advance (EMU enters the tournament as a 12-seed while USC is a five-seed), the next matchup would probably be against third-seed Purdue, which plays 14-seed South Dakota State and gets to play that game and the next on its home floor.

That's fine.

"We're looking to make some noise," Stephens said.

The culmination of the work put in to be here has come around. Staley loves how her team battled adverse conditions through the years to get here, and she doesn't want the journey to end after just one tournament game.

The non-conference schedule, playing several games on the road against several high-profile opponents, was meant so that USC would be used to it when tournament time came around. SEC opponents are good - so good that the Gamecocks feel that NCAA tournament opponents shouldn't be as good.

"I'm just trying to insure that we bring our 'A' game," Staley said. "You can live and die when you bring your very best game. We want to not be a team that's one and done."

The Eagles will throw Tavelyn James at USC, a scorer of lethal proportions that averages nearly 25 points per game, but the Gamecocks have seen high scorers all season. They don't counter with one of their own; rather, it's a team effort that attacks.

Their defense has been their calling card all season, and they work it so well that their guards can get transition buckets and their posts can get putbacks. The system has worked all season as USC stormed to 23 wins, including 10 in the SEC, and it can work here.

"We have to buckle down," Stephens said. "We're working on our opponent and trying to work on what we've done all year."

"We want to win games," senior La'Keisha Sutton said. "We want to do more than just be in the tournament."

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