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January 24, 2013

WBB: White on call against No. 5 Wildcats

It's as much about mentality as it is ability. Being a defensive stopper is a task that only certain players accept.

One has to pass up scoring to prevent the opponent from scoring. One has to always be aware where she is on the court, playing where she can get to her assignment the quickest. One has to channel the thought that one shot may go in, but the next one won't, and won't even be allowed to be put in the air.

It's a full-time assignment, every game all season, and the defensive specialist often has to tweak her individual game to match the opponent's best scorer. So when a lethal scorer such as Kentucky's A'dia Mathies comes to town, like tonight when No. 5 Kentucky plays No. 18 South Carolina, the home team knows that its chance at an upset will depend on stopping her.

Sancheon White is again on call.

"I was kind of like the chosen one," the Gamecocks' senior guard said on Wednesday. "Coach pretty much gave me that role this year and I've just been trying to do my best to take it, do a good job."

White has been tasked with the role all season, pointed toward the opponent's best scorer and told to lock her down. Her quickness allows her to keep pace, her frame (a slender 5-foot-10 with long arms) allows her to play high or low. As the Gamecocks' defense has become one of the best in the SEC, White has been integral to it.

With a chance for another big win tonight - USC has only lost three games, but all have been against ranked opponents - the Gamecocks are looking toward their defense to set the tone. Kentucky is second in the league in scoring offense and has scored 100 points twice this year, and hit at least 90 five other times. Mathies is the leader of that attack, last season's SEC Player of the Year and this year's preseason pick for the same award that averages 15.4 points per game.

"Sancheon will jump-start our defense with Mathies," coach Dawn Staley said. "She's going to be everybody's assignment. She's that good. We have to make sure that she doesn't have a big game on us and we keep them in the 50s range."

Another challenge.

"She's a very good player," White said. "I'm going to process studying her moves. I think I'll be fine."

White's defensive mentality starts with the basics, the tenets that USC wants all of its defenders to harness. That's to always have the arms out, ready to swing and pop the ball loose, or, if the opponent drives to the side, to slide over and keep the same wingspan in front of the ball.

She adds her own style to it with ball pressure. "Pressure the ball at all times, but it definitely varies," she said. "Sometimes I guard slashers or strictly good point shooters. It's different every game. I have to make sure I adjust and I'm locked in. And just know what I'm doing."

She began learning the system last year, but after being brought in from junior college and adjusting to Staley's style, she didn't get a chance to really grasp it. That came this year, on the first day of preseason practice.

"She pretty much had her mind made up that she wanted me to guard the best player on the team," White said. "I played, but last year, I'm not going to say I didn't understand, but I feel like this year, with a year under my belt, I know what coaches expect of me and what they expect of how we play defense. I'm not taking in so much information simply because I remember last year. It's not a heavy load on me; it's a little bit easier."

White began really studying film of Mathies on Wednesday after practice and is combining what she learned last year (two games against Mathies) with the film of this year. Knowing her tendencies is obviously vital toward stopping her from scoring.

"She's good in transition, she can spot up. I have to make sure I locate her at all times," White said. "I just remember the personnel, remember to play them how the coaches want me to play them. I'm really never nervous. It's given to me, and it's not hard for me to accept. I pretty much know (what they'll do)."

Now for another test. Ace this one, and the Gamecocks will have their signature win and can springboard into the stretch run.

"Know my style, my personality on defense, and I watch extra film," White said. "I study my opponent, in transition and half-court. What they're good at, what are their weaknesses.

"I'm not worried at all."

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