ELON PHOENIX (0-0)
SOUTH CAROLINA GAMECOCKS (0-0)
When: 7 p.m. today
Where: Colonial Life Arena, Columbia
Tickets: Available at the box office
Elon's probable starters: G Zora Stephenson 5-10 So. (4.6 ppg, 0.6 rpg); G Ali Ford 5-3 Sr. (14.5 ppg, 3.0 rpg); G Kelsey Harris 5-11 Jr. (6.6 ppg, 4.3 rpg); F Kelsey Evans 6-2 Sr. (11.7 ppg, 7.5 rpg); F Sam Coffer 6-1 So. (6.0 ppg, 4.7 rpg)
South Carolina's probable starters: G Ieasia Walker 5-8 Sr. (7.9 ppg, 4.3 rpg); G Sancheon White 5-10 Sr. (3.5 ppg, 2.4 rpg); G Tiffany Mitchell 5-7 Fr.; F Aleighsa Welch 6-0 So. (7.6 ppg, 6.1 rpg); F Ashley Bruner 6-0 Sr. (7.2 ppg, 5.2 rpg)*
Notes: South Carolina opens its fifth season under Dawn Staley. … USC warmed up with a 57-point thrashing of Anderson in an exhibition, while Elon beat Belmont Abbey in an exhibition. … The Phoenix lead the series 2-0, winning both previous games in the same season (1975). … Elon senior Arayael Brander is from Blythewood and played at Heathwood Hall Episcopal School. … Evans and Ford are preseason All-Southern Conference. … The Phoenix's coaching staff has some familiar names. Charlotte Smith, who sank the game-winning 3-pointer to help North Carolina win the 1994 national championship, is the head coach while former Clemson big whistle Cristy McKinney is an assistant. … The Gamecocks received 49 votes in the preseason USA Today/ESPN Top 25, good for 28th place.
*Note: Statistics are from last year
Next game: USC tips off at Louisiana Tech at 8 p.m. on Monday.
Ever since March 24, South Carolina has waited for this day.
Stanford popped the Gamecocks 76-60 to end USC's magnificent run to the Sweet 16, ending the season at 25-10. While the loss stung, coach Dawn Staley knew that she had accomplished great things in her fourth season.
The program was back. Talent was on the way to replace a chemistry-laden group of seniors. Staley was enthused, even after the loss to the Cardinal - as she said, "I don't think Stanford out-hustled us. They out-talented us."
A different team possessing the same mentality re-takes the floor at Colonial Life Arena tonight. While USC has welcomed five newcomers, all of whom will play tonight and this season, there are enough veterans around who had that taste of success last year and want to make it a full meal.
The appetizers are being served tonight. Elon visits Columbia to start Staley's fifth season, one that she hopes will be as good or better than her fourth.
"I think Elon will be a good first game for us," Staley said on Thursday. "They'll be some good competition. They are coached by one of my former teammates in Charlotte Smith, so we're looking forward to, again, playing somebody different, because practice does seem to be getting old."
The Gamecocks blew out Anderson by 57 points in an exhibition, yet Staley saw things to work on. She wants the team's screens to be done the way they need to be done. It's important to get that started tonight - after tonight, USC is immediately on the road to Louisiana Tech for a game on Monday.
"Whether that's what our players feel comfortable with, we need to do them," Staley said. "If we can stick closer to the game plan and not have those lapses, I think we'll set ourselves up to win the game and also look forward to going on the road and playing."
Freshman guard Tiffany Mitchell should resume her place in the starting lineup, having earned the spot based on her defense. She'll have veterans around her, including the team's three seniors - Sancheon White, Ashley Bruner and Ieasia Walker. The Gamecocks won't substitute five for five, but will play all of their 10 available players during the game.
"I just kind of did as she said throughout the summer and the preseason," Mitchell said. "She told me they wanted quickness on the wing and defensive pressure, so I think that's one reason why I'm starting."
Elon is led by point guard Ali Ford, the exact type of player that has given USC fits in the past, and has four returning starters. Staley was cautious about the Phoenix on Thursday.
"I think (Smith's) got a couple of players who I feel like could be problematic for us, because they can do so many different things," Staley said. "It starts with the point guard, she facilitates their offense. She can wreak havoc defensively because she's small. We almost always have trouble with little smaller guards, so hopefully, we can contain. We do need to speed the game up and play at our pace."
The Gamecocks ran right at Anderson, using their defense to record 16 steals. USC won in a laugher, but now, the games count. The Gamecocks want to be playing confidently when they take their looming first road trip, and that only will come from playing well tonight.
The main goal is try and re-capture that feeling before the Stanford game on March 24, and once obtained, use it to run through the season.
"We're ready, we're ready to open it up," White said. "We're ready to show everybody what we're capable of."