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January 27, 2013

WBB: Gamecocks go for four straight at Arkansas


When: 3 p.m. today
Where: Bud Walton Arena, Fayetteville, Ark.
TV: None
Tickets: Available at the box office
Arkansas' probable starters: G Calli Berna 5-10 So. (8.2 ppg, 3.6 rpg); G Dominique Wilson 5-8 Fr. (4.5 ppg, 1.9 rpg); F Keira Peak 5-9 Jr. (11.4 ppg, 6.3 rpg); F Jhasmin Bowen 6-1 So. (6.4 ppg, 4.5 rpg); F Quistelle Williams 6-0 Sr. (10.2 ppg, 6.7 rpg)
South Carolina's probable starters: G Ieasia Walker 5-8 Sr. (9.8 ppg, 3.7 rpg); G Sancheon White 5-10 Sr. (5.0 ppg, 4.1 rpg); G Tiffany Mitchell 5-7 Fr. (10.2 ppg, 6.2 rpg); F Aleighsa Welch 6-0 So. (12.4 ppg, 8.4 rpg); F Ashley Bruner 6-0 Sr. (9.2 ppg, 7.4 rpg)
Notes: South Carolina heads back on the road before taking a week-long break. … Arkansas leads the overall series 17-9 and 10-2 in Fayetteville but USC has won two of three and five of eight. … The Razorbacks' leading scorer, Sarah Watkins, doesn't start. … Arkansas is paying the price for a soft non-conference schedule with four losses in six SEC games but did win its last game. … USC backups Elem Ibiam and Khadijah Sessions have combined to average 16 points and 10 rebounds over the past two games. … White should be fine after a minor leg injury suffered against Kentucky. … USC is No. 3 in the country in scoring defense and has only allowed one opponent to break 60 points this year. … USC is ranked No. 14 in the ESPN/USA Today coaches' poll.
Next game: USC hosts Auburn at 3 p.m. on Feb. 3.

South Carolina got one.

Now to keep the momentum going into the bye week.

The No. 18 Gamecocks won a game that some expected they wouldn't win, against No. 5 Kentucky on Thursday. They play at Arkansas today, in a game that some figured they may struggle in (it is on the road), but should ultimately win.

The key is to have no letdown. What USC doesn't want to do is "switch" the paper losses for paper wins, as in winning a game it shouldn't have and then losing a game it shouldn't have. The great teams pull off the upset and then still win the game it should win, successfully dealing with the big-game hangover.

USC wins today, it's 6-2 at the SEC midpoint and off for a week, which would be extremely useful. While healthy, the Gamecocks are beginning to feel the wear and tear of a long year - Sancheon White missed some minutes against Kentucky after hitting the floor hard and twisting her leg, and Tiffany Mitchell was on the bench getting iced for a few seconds.

A week without a game is just the tonic. And to be challenging for first place in the league going into that week isn't bad, either.

Going into today's game, USC is fourth in the league behind Tennessee (7-0), Kentucky (6-1) and Texas A&M (5-1). The bye week will have everybody catch up a game, meaning that Georgia (4-2) could equal or surpass USC by the end of next week, but the Gamecocks are right where they want to be.

To stay in the top four, thus earning a bye out of the first two days of the SEC tournament, USC may need some help. It can't equal early tiebreakers gained by the Lady Volunteers and Lady Bulldogs, because USC doesn't play them again. The Gamecocks hold a tiebreaker over the Wildcats, but the two play again in Lexington on Feb. 14, and they play A&M on Feb. 10.

Tournament seeding will be decided eight games down the road (except for Ole Miss, which has voluntarily banned itself from the postseason this year). But the Gamecocks want to get into position for one of those top four spots, and that means every game is important. There aren't too many other chances to stub the toe and be OK.

They'll play the Razorbacks today and hope to limit the height of leading scorer Sarah Watkins, a 6-foot-3 senior who is bullish on the block. The Gamecocks will turn to Elem Ibiam, their own tall 6-3 center who has been instrumental in the past two games.

Ibiam had eight points and eight rebounds, handling all the scoring in one second-half stretch against Kentucky. "I cannot leave this podium without mentioning the job that Elem Ibiam did for us, getting rebounds and scoring in the paint," coach Dawn Staley said. "She did a tremendous job."

If Ibiam and fellow backup Khadijah Sessions can keep up their two-game stretch, USC likes its chances. The bench strength is beginning to match the starters at the perfect time.

"I was asking for it pretty much all week in practice," Ibiam said. "We've been working on focusing on me, asking for the ball in the paint and being ready."

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