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March 21, 2012

WBB: USC wants to take offense with it



Dawn Staley and her players were asked the same question.

After two outstanding games in West Lafayette, Ind., can No. 25 South Carolina again take that on the road with it as it heads to Fresno, Calif., to take on No. 2 Stanford? A team can pack sneakers, lucky jerseys, shoot, even pieces of the net or floor that it just played on to take with it.

But can they pack points?

"We're going to keep doing what we're doing," Staley said. "I think our preparation has been good, our focus has been good, and I think the fact that we're not playing inside our conference … when you go outside your conference you're seeing a little different competition. They don't know you as well as some of our conference teams, and I think we find some mismatches on the offensive end and we're able to capitalize on them."

USC bombed away from the field against Eastern Michigan and Purdue, shooting 53.3 percent in the former and 49.1 in the latter. The Gamecocks forced the issue, driving the lane instead of settling for jump shots, and didn't miss when they had open looks.

USC (25-9) has been a team that has gotten stick-backs and drained 3-pointers this year. In two games at Mackey Arena, the Gamecocks hardly missed a set shot inside the 3-point line, but also stroked 11 3s.

Playing the region's top seed, Stanford, USC would like to take that production with it. The Cardinal have height, just like Purdue, and lethal scoring ability, just like Eastern Michigan.

The Gamecocks ran around those two teams, but won't be playing on the same floor.

"We're good at getting to the basket and we can use our speed and quickness," said Markeisha Grant, who scored 33 points in two games.

More of that, and especially not missing, would be a boon against the Cardinal.

"We can't wait to get back into the gym and practice putting the ball in transition and putting up shots," La'Keisha Sutton said. "It's an incentive to work even harder now, knowing that we can compete with the best teams."

Stanford certainly fits that bill, having lost just one game this season, in its fourth game, and rolling through its next 30 games unscathed. The Cardinal have height, depth and talent - the Gamecocks have speed, defense and talent.

USC has neutralized height by winning the hustle plays all year, which often lead to more rebounds. They also run around height and utilize Charenee Stephens in the post to push the opponents' bigs out of position, at least making it uncomfortable for them to establish a comfort zone.

The Gamecocks also went right at Purdue's bigs, forcing foul trouble and causing consternation when the shots simply wouldn't fall. USC was able to hit anything it chose, establishing an early rhythm by taking the wide-open lanes that the Boilermakers gave.

Stanford probably won't be giving USC that kind of early look, considering coach Tara VanDerveer is one of the best coaches in the country and finding an opponents' strength and taking it away. She coached Staley in the 1996 Olympics and will also know what kind of tendencies her former point guard has.

Staley will try to find a way to attack Stanford, as she did EMU and Purdue. Her team's increased belief in itself can only help.

We feel we can win the game, no matter who it is," said Ieasia Walker.

And if the first shot goes down, perhaps that will trigger what worked so well in Indiana. Not that the Gamecocks weren't trying to take everything they could from the Purdue visitors' locker room in order to keep that streak going.

"Hmmmm, I don't know," Ashley Bruner said, "Hopefully pack it up with us. When we pack up our stuff, we pack that, too."

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