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December 2, 2012

WBB: USC back on the road


When: 2 p.m. today
Where: Walsh Gymnasium, South Orange, N.J.
TV: None
Tickets: Available at the box office
South Carolina's probable starters: G Ieasia Walker 5-8 Sr. (8.9 ppg, 3.4 rpg); G Sancheon White 5-10 Sr. (6.3 ppg, 4.9 rpg); G Tiffany Mitchell 5-7 Fr. (10.4 ppg, 6.0 rpg); F Aleighsa Welch 6-0 So. (11.8 ppg, 10.3 rpg); F Ashley Bruner 6-0 Sr. (12.4 ppg, 7.6 rpg)
Seton Hall's probable starters: G Brittany Morris 5-6 Sr. (12.6 ppg, 3.3 rpg); G Alexis Brown 5-8 So. (5.0 ppg, 5.6 rpg); G Ka-Deidre Simmons 5-8 So. (7.7 ppg, 3.3 rpg); F Alex Maseko 6-2 Sr. (6.7 ppg, 5.6 rpg); F Janee Johnson 6-1 Jr. (2.9 pg, 4.3 rpg)
Notes: South Carolina finishes its true road non-conference schedule. … Seton Hall leads the series 2-0 and the teams last met in 2004-05. … The Gamecocks haven't been 9-0 since the 1981-82 season, when they began 10-0 and ended the year in the Sweet 16. … USC coach Dawn Staley and Seton Hall coach Anne Donovan have a history, with Staley playing for Donovan with the Philadelphia Rage, the Charlotte Sting and the 2004 U.S. Olympic team, when Donovan was an assistant. Donovan also invited Staley to be an assistant coach on the 2008 Olympic team. This will be the first meeting between the two as head coaches. … USC will only have three games over the next 17 days due to exams. … The game is a chance for Walker, a New York native, to play in front of her family. … The Pirates have three North Carolina natives on the team. … The Gamecocks received 15 votes in this week's Associated Press Top 25 and are ranked No. 24 in this week's USA Today/ESPN Top 25.
Next game: USC hosts Furman at 3 p.m. on Dec. 9.

South Carolina was challenged, and responded. That the ensuing game was on the road didn't bother Dawn Staley one bit.

Without the necessary-but-time-consuming activities such as finding tickets for family and friends, balancing schoolwork and other events around Columbia, the Gamecocks can become a tighter, more focused unit when they are away from home.

"I think this team is a team that concentrates a little bit more on the road," Staley said. "There's just a little bit more camaraderie."

USC (8-0) is back on the road at Seton Hall (3-4) today, finishing its non-conference road schedule after playing three games in three days in the Virgin Islands and then playing Drexel at home. The overtime win over the Dragons was quite a departure from the Gamecocks' usual wrecking of their previous opponents; it was Drexel that commanded nearly the entire game before USC forced overtime and then held the Dragons scoreless in the extra period.

That game featured a sluggish first half and Staley had to crawl up in some minds at halftime. It worked, senior Ashley Bruner shaking off a scoreless and rebound-less first half to finish with 12 and eight, respectively, and the rest of the team coming up with big play after big play.

The performance against Drexel didn't bother Staley in preparing for the Pirates. "We're not going to see Drexel's style of play," she said. "We won't for the rest of the season."

Getting away from what the Gamecocks want to do on offense and defense did bother Staley. It's not nearly time to hit the panic button, but she knew that a bad first half against the next opponent might not yield the same result.

"I just didn't think we had a good first half," Staley said. "I don't think our seniors came out ready to rock and roll."

The Gamecocks prefer a running, frenetic game plan built on working the ball inside to Bruner and Aleighsa Welch. USC got away from that in the first half against Drexel, but with the guards beginning to find their rhythm, it blossomed in the second half.

Going against a similar lineup with the Pirates can help, plus a reminder in practice of what the Gamecocks' goal is. To a woman, they each say, "Final Four," and they believe it.

"This team really doesn't like to lose," Staley said. "They're very, very competitive. I just see them getting better from a mental standpoint. They have a certain mental toughness, a refuse-to-lose attitude, from Player 1 to Player 9."

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