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December 18, 2013

Women face Tar Heels tonight in Classic

South Carolina (9-0) v. North Carolina (9-2)
When: 7 p.m.
Where: Myrtle Beach Convention Center, Myrtle Beach
TV: None (Live video on BeachBallClassic.com)


For Dawn Staley and her top-10 Gamecocks, opportunity is knocking at the door just down the street.

Awaiting them tonight in Myrtle Beach is North Carolina, ranked No. 14 and a perennial contender in women's college basketball - in other words, where South Carolina wants to be.

"It is a big opportunity," Staley said. "It's a big game. It's two ranked teams going at it.

"I think it's pretty special because you have talent on both sides. We're looking forward to it. It's a great game for women's basketball to showcase what both teams have in this early part of the season. So no, it's not a must-win, but it's certainly one that we would love to have under our belts."

One benefit is that the Gamecocks are rested having played their last game 10 days ago. The Tar Heels, on the other hand, will be playing for the second time in three days when they face Staley's attacking, pressuring speed.

For Staley and her team, which is undefeated at 9-0 and averaging 79.6 points per game while only giving up 47.7, the game against UNC is the season's first real test.

"I think it will be a great measuring stick for where we are against some of the best teams in the country," Staley said. "Hopefully we'll be able to perform and execute our game plan to put us in a position to win."

Key to the team's success so far, Staley said, has been an influx of talent and, of all things, an NCAA rule change.

"The new rule allowed us to work with our players over the summer, and they really focused in and were really dedicated and disciplined," Staley said. "All our players really worked.

"You look at Aleighsa Welch, you look at Elem (Ibiam), all of them have really worked on their game. You look at Tiffany Mitchell, she played a whole lot of minutes and she's more efficient in what she's doing out on the floor.

"For us, we felt our offseason and summer workouts were really useful. Now we're seeing out players really develop into players who everybody on the floor, you have to play them. There's not anybody we put on the floor you don't have to play honestly."

In 2011 in Myrtle Beach, the Gamecocks were unranked and found a way to beat No. 18 UNC 79-48. Tonight, the shoe will be on the other foot as the Tar Heels will be the underdog looking for a resume-building win.

"It's not a hard game to get the kids motivated for; I think they're pretty focused about the next game. It's a big game for us.

"As I have always said, it's a good environment and good atmosphere down at Myrtle Beach. Hopefully we'll be able to give, both teams, the fans what they want to see and just play some good basketball."

What to watch for: The Gamecocks will be playing just their second game in the last sixteen days. The Tar Heels, on the other hand, will be playing their second game in Myrtle Beach and third in five days. Will South Carolina be rusty or rested? Will North Carolina be sharp (it won the last two games by 51 and 83 points) or worn out? The Gamecocks cannot afford a sluggish start against the Tar Heels' powerful offense.

The two teams did not meet last season due to scheduling issues, but have met regularly in Myrtle Beach. The game played two years ago to the day marked a coming out party for Dawn Staley's program. The Gamecocks cruised to a 79-48 blowout win over the 18th ranked Tar Heels. It was the first big win of the season and announced the program's emergence as a contender. Wednesday's game marks the third time both teams have been ranked going into the game, but the first time the Gamecocks have held the higher ranking. South Carolina comes in ranked tenth in both the AP and Coaches Polls. North Carolina is ranked fourteenth and fifteenth, respectively.

The game will be the first of three games in five days for South Carolina before a break for Christmas. The Gamecocks play host to Winthrop Friday at noon, and then SC State on Sunday at 1 p.m.

Notes: * USC coaches will wear orange ribbons during the game to show support for UNC head coach Sylvia Hatchell, who is suffering from leukemia. Hatchell has taken a leave of absence due to her illness. Associate head coach Andrew Calder, who has been with the Tar Heels for 30 seasons, is the acting head coach.
* North Carolina has freshman Xylina McDaniel, a Columbia native who was recruited heavily by South Carolina. McDaniel, the daughter of Xavier McDaniel, attended Spring Valley and has twice scored 25 points in a game this season.
* The Gamecocks score more than half of their points in the paint: 40.7 of 79.7 points per game.
* Junior forward Aleighsa Welch is shooting .723 from the floor, best in the nation. She averages 14.0 points per game.
* Guard Tiffany Mitchell is the only Gamecock to score in double figures in every game this season. She leads the team with an average of 15.0 points per game.
* Point guard Khadijah Sessions is second in the SEC in assist-to-turnover ratio at 1.5. The Tar Heels lead the all-time series 9-7. This will be the ninth meeting in Myrtle Beach, where the Tar Heels hold a 5-3 edge.
* The Gamecocks have topped 80 points in four games this season. In Staley's first five seasons, they topped 80 a total of four times.



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