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November 12, 2012

WBB: Gamecocks hit the road


When: 8 p.m. today
Where: Thomas Assembly Center, Ruston, La.
TV: None
Tickets: Available at the box office
South Carolina's probable starters: G Ieasia Walker 5-8 Sr. (13.0 ppg, 4.0 rpg); G Sancheon White 5-10 Sr. (8.0 ppg, 1.0 rpg); G Tiffany Mitchell 5-7 Fr. (9.0 ppg, 2.0 rpg); F Aleighsa Welch 6-0 So. (9.0 ppg, 1.0 rpg); F Ashley Bruner 6-0 Sr. (15.0 ppg, 3.0 rpg)
Louisiana Tech's probable starters: G Lulu Perry 5-6 Fr. (7.0 ppg, 2.0 rpg); G Jelena Vucinic 5-9 Jr. (4.0 ppg, 2.0 rpg); G Janay Borum 5-2 Jr. (5.0 ppg, 6.0 ppg); F Brittany Lewis 6-2 Sr. (12.0 ppg, 8.0 rpg); F Whitney Frazier 6-1 So. (10.0 ppg, 8.0 rpg)
Notes: South Carolina is immediately on the road, three days after opening its season with a resounding win. … The Gamecocks trail 3-1 in the all-time series, including 2-0 in Ruston, but haven't played Louisiana Tech since 1983. … USC's 53-33 rebounding margin against Elon in its season-opener was the third-highest under coach Dawn Staley. … The Lady Techsters dropped their opener 66-59 to Tulane. … Staley is seeking the third win in the first road game of the year during her tenure. … Louisiana Tech coach Teresa Weatherspoon is a Lady Techster alum, and played point guard for the U.S. Olympic team in 1988 and 1992, before Staley took the role for the next three Olympics. … The Gamecocks received 49 votes in the preseason USA Today/ESPN Top 25, good for 28th place.
Next game: USC hosts Savannah State at 7 p.m. on Thursday.

South Carolina has five newcomers that will have to play extensive minutes this season.

What better way to test them than by giving each of them at least 10 minutes in a season-opening bludgeoning of Elon, then by taking them on the road?

"Especially with a young team, we've got to get them acquainted to playing in a hostile arena, because it's a hostile atmosphere there," point guard Ieasia Walker said on Friday, minutes after scoring 13 points in a 77-44 crushing of the Phoenix.

The Gamecocks (1-0) tip off at Louisiana Tech tonight, a tough early-season test and a quick turnaround from the season-opener. USC met for film study and practice on Saturday, then left on Sunday for the bayou.

The Lady Techsters (0-1) aren't your daddy's Lady Techsters, going 17-15 last season and falling to Tulane in this year's season-opener. Still, it's a tough place to play, the Hoop Troop pep band making life difficult for opponents and one of USC coach Dawn Staley's old cronies, Teresa Weatherspoon, coaching the home team.

USC went through a sluggish period in the win over Elon, coincidentally when it substituted some of the new players in for the starters after leaping ahead. But, it was going to have to happen - the goal for the Gamecocks' early season is to get the four freshmen and junior-college transfer Wilka Montout as many minutes as possible before SEC play hits.

A big road test can help the team in the long run. Outside of a Thanksgiving-week tournament in the Virgin Islands, USC's only other road non-conference game is at Seton Hall on Dec. 2. With eight SEC games on the road, the plan was to give the new players a quick taste of away games but mostly work them into the system during home games.

It was a good start against Elon. But Louisiana Tech is a different animal.

"I think Louisiana Tech, the tradition of playing there, I don't think a whole lot of people have success there," Staley said. "I think their style of play will probably bother us a little bit because they're young, they're athletic and they pressure you. Hopefully we can work on a few things in the next two days and hopefully be the more disciplined basketball team (tonight)."

The Gamecocks are achieving great success by depending on forwards Ashley Bruner and Aleighsa Welch, while Walker directs the offense, also knowing that she can score if need be. Freshman Tiffany Mitchell should continue to start after scoring nine points and dishing three assists against Elon, and guard Sancheon White was sizzling early against the Phoenix before a minor blow to the head knocked her out for the rest of the first half.

USC is simply hoping to keep getting a mix of what the newcomers can do, so the starters can be saved for the stretch run. Tiffany Davis ignited the team against Elon, but was 0-for-6 from the field in an exhibition win over Anderson. Conversely, Asia Dozier scored 14 points against the Trojans, but was 0-for-8 from the field against Elon (although she grabbed 10 rebounds).

Khadijah Sessions has played well in both games, but was at the low end of the minutes with just 10 against Elon. Montout is slowly adjusting to the major-college game.

But, USC feels it can build a lead, rest the starters and have the newcomers play well. If they don't do so hot, the veterans can always re-enter and take it back.

The Gamecocks have been sticky on defense, devilish at recording steals and are excellent at running the floor and finding ways to battle under the rim. If they can knock down their free throws (15-of-30 against Elon), they can be extremely strong.

"They're going to pressure us, which means we're going to attack the basket and get fouled. That's something we really have to start improving on, because we're going to go to the line a lot," Walker said. "We've just got to turn the page, come in tomorrow and work on what we can control, like our rebounding."

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