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January 6, 2013

WBB: USC at Mississippi State today


When: 3 p.m. today
Where: Humphrey Coliseum, Starkville, Miss.
TV: None
Tickets: Available at the box office
South Carolina's probable starters: G Ieasia Walker 5-8 Sr. (8.6 ppg, 3.2 rpg); G Sancheon White 5-10 Sr. (5.9 ppg, 3.9 rpg); G Tiffany Mitchell 5-7 Fr. (11.5 ppg, 6.1 rpg); F Aleighsa Welch 6-0 So. (11.9 ppg, 8.9 rpg); F Ashley Bruner 6-0 Sr. (9.4 ppg, 7.1 rpg)
Mississippi State's probable starters: G Katia May 5-2 Jr. (4.8 ppg, 2.2 rpg); G Kendra Grant 5-11 So. (12.3 ppg, 4.9 rpg); G Darriel Gaynor 5-6 Sr. (6.2 ppg, 2.6 rpg); F Carnecia Williams 6-3 So. (9.1 ppg, 5.2 rpg); C Martha Alwal 6-4 So. (12.1 ppg, 9.5 rpg)
Notes: Each team is attempting to come back from an opening-league loss. … USC hasn't begun 0-2 in the SEC since the 2009-10 season. … South Carolina lost by 20 to Tennessee in its opener while Mississippi State was blown out by 51 points by Vanderbilt. … The Bulldogs lead the overall series 16-11 but have lost two straight. MSU leads 9-3 in Starkville. … USC leads the SEC in scoring defense (47.5 points per game) and has held 10 of 14 opponents below 50 points. … Walker needs 45 points to reach 1,000 for her career. … . … USC is No. 15 in the ESPN/USA Today coaches' poll.
Next game: USC hosts Vanderbilt at 7 p.m. on Thursday.

South Carolina understood why it lost to Tennessee, and despite the loss, knows that it's something that it can control.

Just got to score.

"We are who we are," coach Dawn Staley said after a 73-53 loss to No. 12 Tennessee last week, only the Gamecocks' second loss of the season but its first in the SEC. "We're going to wake up tomorrow and defend like we defend. We just have to find a way to score. We're taking good shots. We're missing wide-open shots."

USC (12-2, 0-1 SEC) has lost two games this year, each to teams ranked in the Top 12, and each has had the same theme. The Gamecocks haven't hit the easy shots that could have meant the victory, or at the very least, a chance to stay in the game until there was another chance to win.

Too many bunnies bouncing out of the rim. Too many fast-break layups too hard off the glass. Too much rushing, inside and out, instead of setting the feet and following through.

Against Stanford, the Gamecocks missed too many early shots and it cost them late. Against Tennessee, the Volunteers hit a few shots to take a two-possession lead, and USC couldn't answer for a long stretch. By the time the Gamecocks got one to fall, the Vols were ahead by 20.

Two pieces of good news - USC knows exactly what's wrong, and it also knows that it won't face many other teams this year that has what Stanford and Tennessee has (height that's still quick). Most teams left on the schedule, if not every team left on the schedule, will be taller than the Gamecocks, but won't have the kind of quick height that those two teams have. USC is conditioned and experienced with running right around those kinds of teams.

"We're going to run into teams bigger than us, probably nine times out of 10," forward Aleighsa Welch said. "That's something we have to deal with."

Today's opponent, Mississippi State, is an example. Center Martha Alwal stands 6-foot-4 and is the Bulldogs' second-leading scorer, while forward Carnecia Williams is the third. The Gamecocks may have a hard time scoring against that kind of height, but then again, Mississippi State may have a harder time keeping its height on pace with USC's collection of racers - and defenders.

USC's lockdown defense has been the story of the season, and that shouldn't change anytime soon. The Gamecocks have the mindset, speed and talent to shut down every team they face - it's just sometimes, they have to have the offense to go with it.

"(The Lady Vols) were just being big," Ieasia Walker said. "When we did penetrate, you got two bigs at you, hands up, and they altered our shots."

But that's fixable. USC figures that if Alwal or Williams scores on one end of the floor, it can have all five players working offense while one of those is still huffing up the court.

Plus, MSU's defense allowed Vanderbilt to score 92 points in its SEC opener. The final score was 92-41.

"We're going to face teams that are much taller than us. We've just got to find a way to score," Staley said. "Our defense is going to be fine.

"We lost one game. The bottom didn't fall out. We're going to be fine. We're a very good defensive basketball team that struggles at the free-throw line and struggles to score at times."

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