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March 8, 2014

WBB Hoops preview: Kentucky

DULUTH, Ga. - No. 5 South Carolina plays No. 12 Kentucky in the semifinals of the SEC Tournament at noon Saturday.

Time: Noon
Site: The Arena at Gwinnett Center, Duluth, Ga.
TV: ESPNU

What to watch for:
Poor free throw shooting, and old nemeses that had seemingly been banished, has resurfaced lately. The Gamecocks were just 9-21 against Georgia, and missed the front end of a one and one several times. For a team that relies on post play as much as the Gamecocks, there are going to be a lot of free throw attempts. The Gamecocks have attempted 20 or more free throws in 23 games this season, and 40 or more five times. But missing free throws effectively neutralizes one of the Gamecocks biggest strengths.

During the non-conference schedule, South Carolina shot over 70 percent from the line just three times. Once conference play began, South Carolina improved markedly. It shot 70 percent or better nine times, and over 80 percent in five of those contests. Tiffany Mitchell is shooting, 79.6 percent from the line, fifth best in the SEC. Against Alabama, South Carolina missed just one free throw. But there were also slip ups.

In the overtime loss at Texas A&M, South Carolina had a miserable night, shooting 47.6 percent and missing 11 free throws in a two-point loss. The Gamecocks shot 60 percent and 54.3 percent in home wins over Kentucky and Missouri, allowing both teams to hang around in the second half.

After the opening game, head coach Dawn Staley suggested that the rims at The Arena at Gwinnett Center have a different feel than what the Gamecocks are used to, calling them "tight." The arena also has a large open space for bands and cheerleaders behind each basket instead of seating. That creates a slightly different shooting perspective. Whether a little acclimation is all the Gamecocks need remains to be seen.

Opponent: South Carolina will face Kentucky in the semifinal round as the Kentucky revenge tour marches on. It will be the third contest between the teams this season, with the Gamecocks sweeping the first two games. Kentucky earned the rematch by fending off Florida 75-70. Like the Gamecocks, the Gators beat the Wildcats twice in the regular season. Florida led the game early and had an answer the first two times Kentucky made a run. But the Wildcats had one last run, and the Gators shooting went cold.

Notes:
* With the win over Georgia on Friday, South Carolina evened its record in Duluth at 3-3. The win also made Staley 5-5 in the SEC Tournament for her career.

* South Carolina and Kentucky have met in the SEC Tournament once. Kentucky beat South Carolina 77-68 in 2002.

* South Carolina defeated then #9 Kentucky 68-59 on January 9 in Columbia. In the rematch, South Carolina routed then #15 Kentucky 81-58 in Lexington.

* Attendance for South Carolina's session on Friday was 4,271. Attendance is calculated by session rather than game.

* The winner of this game will play in the SEC Tournament Championship Game Sunday at 3:30.



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