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March 22, 2013

WBB: USC tries to keep heads above thin air



VIDEO: Dawn Staley

20130320-DawnStaley-CW from GamecockCentral.com on Vimeo.



They discussed it, because they knew it would be an issue.

But there was no way of knowing how they'll actually handle it until they get out there in it.

Seventeenth-ranked South Carolina departed on Thursday for Boulder, Colo., and the NCAA tournament. The Gamecocks (24-7) practiced on Thursday and will go again today before they begin the tournament against South Dakota State (25-7) at 4:10 p.m. on Saturday.

If coach Dawn Staley sees her players dragging a little in practice, she's going to have to decide how hard to get on them. Sure, it may be some less-than-championship effort, but a more likely culprit is geography. At 5,430 feet above sea level, Boulder's air is thinner than the hope of getting an NCAA women's basketball regional to Columbia within the next five years.

USC knows it's facing a tremendous challenge, trying to get used to that in three days, but that's the hand it was dealt. One thing is that Kansas and South Dakota State will also have to get used to it - if the Gamecocks catch the Jackrabbits, perhaps they'll be used to the air or won't have to play host Colorado, fully used to playing in the atmosphere, in the next round.

"I played in Colorado before, so I know it's going to be hard to adjust," freshman Tiffany Mitchell said on Wednesday. "We can't get in Colorado shape in three days. We're just going to try to play our game and hope that it doesn't affect us."

Mitchell and senior guard Ieasia Walker are at least familiar with the air they're going to be breathing. Each was at a Team USA tryout in Colorado Springs during high school and remember what it was like.

"We're not used to playing with that thin air," Mitchell said. "Every time down the court, you're going to be out of breath. I feel like we're going to be making a lot more subs and try to get people's wind back. It's going to play a part in the game."

Mitchell said that playing in it before didn't affect her. Staley is hopeful that that carries over to the rest of the team, as the way that USC plays defense and has its most consistent offense - on the break - is going to require a lot of running up and down the court. USC isn't going to go Four Corners just because of playing in a different atmosphere - with the way the Gamecocks shoot the ball, setting up to take jump shots is a quick way to start preparing for the offseason.

USC prepped its players beforehand by telling them to hydrate, on and off the court, in and out of practice. A season's worth of conditioning can only help, but it's still a fingers-crossed scenario until they actually get in it.

Oxygen seems to always be the quick solution during games, but the problem with taking it is that it responds like a rollercoaster. Energy levels rise very high when taking it, but then it severely tapers off and a player feels lower than they did before breathing it in. That causes them to take more oxygen, and before they know it, they feel doubly tired.

It's a different bear to handle, but Staley is confident in the team's trainers. They'll know how to handle it.

"I think we can control a little bit more, now that we're about to hit the road," Staley said. "Got that long plane ride, long couple of days in Buffalo. Hopefully our medical staff can work their magic to where it won't have an effect on the way we play."



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