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March 2, 2014

WBB Hoops preview: Tennessee



Fourth-ranked South Carolina (26-2, 14-1 SEC) visits No. 10 Tennessee (23-5, 12-3) in a top 10 matchup and the season finale for both teams.

Time: 2:30 p.m.
Site: Thompson-Boling Arena, Knoxville, TN
TV: ESPNU

What to watch for:
With the SEC Championship clinched, the Gamecocks are playing for NCAA seeding. They are in the running for a number one seed, and are currently listed as a one seed in ESPN's Bracketology, but the resume could use a little padding. The Gamecocks played only one marquee opponent in the non-conference schedule, North Carolina, and lost that game. Winning the SEC, one of the power conferences in women's basketball, is enough to put the Gamecocks in the conversation. A road win over a Top 10 opponent would be a nice selling point, as would the 15-1 conference record. The Gamecocks will have a chance for up to three quality wins in the SEC Tournament, but the preference would be settle the case before the tournament.

On an abstract level, the game also has meaning. Tennessee is not quite the same powerhouse it was under Pat Summitt, but it is still one of the handful of elite programs in the country and the torch-bearer for the SEC. Two years ago, South Carolina's 64-60 upset win in Knoxville announced the Gamecocks' arrival as an NCAA Tournament team. Tennessee got its revenge last season in Columbia, but a second straight win on Tennessee's home court would do more to elevate South Carolina in the national consciousness than the 15-1 SEC record would.

Tennessee has much more at stake than USC. Tennessee is playing for seeding in the SEC tournament, and is currently tied with Texas A&M, though it holds the tiebreaker. The Aggies play at Florida on Sunday. The Lady Vols are projected as a #2 by ESPN, and have the benefit of being a host school for the first two rounds of the tournament.

Tennessee is led by senior guard Meighan Simmons, who averages 16.3 points per game. 6-3 center Isabelle Harrison pulls down 9.1 rebounds per game, and will be a defensive key against Carolina's 6-4 twin towers Elem Ibiam and Alaina Coates. The game features the two best rebounding teams in the SEC. South Carolina and Tennessee are one and two in virtually every rebounding category.

Notes:

* With the home schedule complete, the Gamecocks' "Drive for 5" campaign is over, and it was remarkably successful. The goal was to average 5,000 fans for every home game this season. Doing so would mean an increase in attendance of over 20 percent from last season's average of 3,952. By the end of this season, the Gamecocks sold over 4,000 season tickets, played in front of crowds of more than 10,000 twice, and recorded two of the three largest crowds in Colonial Life Arena history. They had at least 5,000 fans in 11 of the 16 home games, and the smallest crowd, 4,347, which would have been the fourth-largest home crowd last season.
* So what were the final numbers? South Carolina averaged 6,371 fans per game. That ranked third in the SEC and eleventh in the nation. It also went undefeated at home for the second time in program history.

* South Carolina's three post players, Aleighsa Welch, Ibiam, and Coates, have accounted for 48 percent of the Gamecocks' total scoring this season.

* This game has some meaning off the court, too. The nation's top recruit, A'ja Wilson, has said very little publicly, but it is widely believed that she is deciding between Tennessee and South Carolina. The entire coaching staffs of South Carolina and Tennessee, as well as North Carolina, attended Wilson's playoff game Friday night. The Gamecock coaches all wore neon t-shirts that read "There is no place like home." The shirts were also given to fans the weekend of Wilson's official visit.

Quick Hits:
USC is currently on a 10-game winning streak... The Gamecocks are fifth in the nation in field goal percentage (48.5)... If South Carolina beats Tennessee, its conference winning percentage would be 93.8 percent, best conference winning percentage in program history... USC also went undefeated at home in 1978-79, when it split games between Carolina Coliseum and Blatt P.E. Center.

SUBSCRIBERS-ONLY News/Features from GamecockCentral.com:

Recruiting scoop - an update on 4-star OL Zack Bailey after his visit to Columbia on Friday, news on a 5-star DB visiting, and more

Want to know which USC players ran the fastest 40 in offseason testing? Bench press? Which players won the team competition, and which guys stood out for leadership and overall performance? Our detailed report here -

Offseason workout scoop - top performers, team leaders, and even more from our exclusive workout with strength coach Joe Connolly

Tons of Gamecock football/recruiting news and discussion on The Insiders Forum

In the dark about a Gamecock team/recruiting question? Ask Chris Clark here any day and get a detailed answer -

Hoops/hoops recruiting insider - will Dawn Staley land top target A'ja Wilson? What's the latest on the recruiting trail for Frank Martin?

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