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February 28, 2013

WBB: USC finishes SEC road schedule



NO. 14 SOUTH CAROLINA GAMECOCKS (22-5, 10-4 SEC)
at
MISSOURI TIGERS (15-13, 4-10)

When: 8 p.m. today
Where: Mizzou Arena, Columbia, Mo.
TV: None
Tickets: Available at the box office
South Carolina's probable starters: G Ieasia Walker 5-8 Sr. (9.1 ppg, 4.0 rpg); G Sancheon White 5-10 Sr. (4.7 ppg, 4.1 rpg); G Khadijah Sessions 5-8 Fr. (5.5 ppg, 1.4 rpg); F Aleighsa Welch 6-0 So. (12.3 ppg, 7.9 rpg); F Ashley Bruner 6-0 Sr. (9.5 ppg, 7.6 rpg)
Missouri's probable starters: G Morgan Eye 5-9 So. (12.9 ppg, 3.6 rpg); G Bri Kulas 6-1 Jr. (13.4 ppg, 6.1 rpg); G Kyley Simmons 5-7 So. (3.6 ppg, 1.6 rpg); G Sydney Crafton 5-10 Sr. (9.9 ppg, 5.6 rpg); C Liz Smith 6-1 Sr. (7.0 ppg, 5.1 rpg)
Notes: South Carolina can set a new program-high for SEC wins with a victory, breaking the mark of 10 set three times, including last year. … Dawn Staley has improved her overall and SEC win total every year that she has been at USC, and a win tonight keeps the SEC streak going and leaves her three wins off the overall goal. … Sessions is expected to start her third straight game. … The second meeting in series history but the first in SEC play. USC beat Missouri 72-60 at the Duke Classic in 2001. … USC can also tie a record for the most regular-season wins in program history, which was set in 1979-80. … Only two opponents have scored more than 60 points vs. USC this season. … The Tigers are holding their Senior Night, honoring Crafton, Smith, Kendra Frazier and Liene Priede. … USC is ranked No. 13 in the ESPN/USA Today coaches' poll.
Next game: USC hosts Florida at 1 p.m. on Sunday.


It's another road game. Fourteenth-ranked South Carolina has already set a school record this year by winning five SEC road games. A sixth against a barely-above-.500 Missouri team shouldn't be any problem.

Right?

No. That's exactly the kind of pooh-pooh attitude that Dawn Staley doesn't want as her Gamecocks (22-5, 10-4 SEC) prepare to begin the most crucial part of the season, and what her team will ultimately be judged on.

Plus, there's that other thing.

Tennessee leads the SEC by two games and can clinch the regular-season championship outright with a win tonight. The Lady Volunteers are a sterling 13-1.

The "1" was on the same floor where USC is playing tonight.

Missouri hung the only SEC loss on the Vols this season on Feb. 3, and it wasn't any kind of buzzer-beater or controversial call. The Tigers crushed Tennessee 80-63; what made the feat more amazing is that it was the same Missouri team that played at Tennessee on Jan. 10 and was destroyed 84-39.

Knowing that, and also that Mizzou is 13-4 at home this year, has Staley very cognizant of what her team is walking into.

"They do take care of their home court," Staley said on Wednesday. "They're a different type of basketball team than we've faced in a very long time, since actually, Drexel and Florida Gulf Coast. It's pretty easy to know what Missouri does and what they do well. They knock down 3s. If they're able to play their type of game, which is hit eight, nine, 10 3s, we're in for a long night."

The Gamecocks played Drexel and FGC in November, handily beating FGC in the Virgin Islands but having to go to overtime against the Dragons to win. Their defense against the 3, like the rest of their defense, has been super all year, checking in at just under 30 percent going into tonight's game.

USC will be facing a crowd that may be a bit more amped than usual due to it being Senior Night, but will have to shut it down. The Gamecocks are hoping that their burgeoning offense will continue to flow.

Staley replaced Tiffany Mitchell in the starting lineup two games ago with freshman Khadijah Sessions, giving USC a two-point guard look with Ieasia Walker. Sessions, speedy, able to knock balls loose on defense and turn them into transition points and a pure scorer, has given the Gamecocks a different look.

Mitchell didn't do anything wrong, but she can bring "instant offense" off the bench. Combined with the maturing of Elem Ibiam (averaging 10 points over her last four games), USC is flashing a little more versatility.

"I just stuck to what I was doing and didn't really get the starter-or-not thing in my head," Mitchell said. "I adjusted to that and being a spark off the bench. It feels good to know that she trusts me because I trust her."

"We're probably a little quicker in that Khadijiah is a point guard, in that she's used to distributing, getting the ball up and down the floor," Staley said. "Both of them deserve to start. We're just pretty much trying to get Tiff to see the game a little bit differently, and it's coming."

Playing at its peak would be lovely as USC finishes the regular season on Sunday. After that comes the SEC tournament, which the Gamecocks will most likely begin on Thursday, as the last chance to lock down a top seed for the NCAA tournament.

Another chance for a boost waits tonight, if USC can handle a different-looking SEC team.

"It's pretty difficult," Staley said. "I think they have a little bit more shooters than those two teams, so it makes them a very dangerous basketball team."



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