WBB: Gamecocks Open WNIT Tonight

What: WNIT, First Round
When: 7 p.m. today
Where: Colonial Life Arena, Columbia
TV: None
Tickets: Available at the box office
Appalachian State's probable starters: G Chakeitha Weldon 5-8 Jr. (4.9 ppg, 3.2 rpg); G Sam Ramirez 5-8 Sr. (15.7 ppg, 3.2 rpg); F Kelsey Sharkey 6-0 So. (4.2 ppg, 5.1 rpg); F Anna Freeman 6-0 So. (14.4 ppg, 7.0 rpg); F Ashlen Dewart 6-3 So. (15.9 ppg, 6.4 rpg)
South Carolina's probable starters: G Ieasia Walker 5-8 So. (12.4 ppg, 4.0 rpg); G La'Keisha Sutton 5-9 Jr. (10.5 ppg, 2.7 rpg); G Valerie Nainima 5-5 Sr. (6.3 ppg, 1.6 rpg); G Courtney Newton 5-10 Jr. (2.4 ppg, 2.5 rpg); F Jewel May 6-1 Sr. (4.0 ppg, 4.8 rpg)
Notes: South Carolina begins the first postseason in coach Dawn Staley's three-year tenure. … The first meeting of the two teams since the 2003-04 season. … USC leads the all-time series 10-4 and has won the last five meetings. … The fourth appearance for the Gamecocks in the WNIT.
Next game: The winner plays the Liberty-Charlotte winner at a time and date to be announced. If the Gamecocks win, they will try to host a game on Sunday afternoon, but they may have to travel if they cannot work it out, due to CLA having previous commitments. In that case, USC would play either Saturday or Monday at the opponent's court.
No, it's not the one it wanted, but South Carolina is in a postseason tournament.
"We're partaking in some postseason play," Gamecocks coach Dawn Staley said on Tuesday. 'It wasn't our primary objective, but it certainly is … we're alive, and we're able to play basketball."
Staley's goal - and the goal of every coach - is to have the team playing in the NCAA tournament every year, but the Gamecocks again fell short. Still, USC showed improvement for the third straight season under Staley and she will make her postseason debut as a Gamecock tonight.
Appalachian State (25-6) visits USC (17-14) tonight in the first round of the WNIT. The Gamecocks are looking to get back on a roll, after winning six of eight to get into postseason consideration and then losing three of their last four games.
"We're excited to be playing postseason," said Jewel May, one of the team's two seniors. "Obviously nobody wants to sit out and just have the season be over after the regular season. We're really motivated. Obviously we didn't want to be left out of the NCAA tournament, but we feel like we're playing with a chip on our shoulder. We've got something to prove, apparently, and we're ready to prove that."
Staley's third team gelled in midseason after last year's team, which also had a shot at the NCAA tournament, collapsed down the stretch. The bad times began quickly after - players left, were dismissed or had other troubles that cut the roster to 10 players, but the Gamecocks still managed to come together and win.
Staley backed off her players and let them guide her, the two sides finding a mutual agreement that had USC winning games. Although two straight overtime losses to end the regular season cost the Gamecocks solid footing for the NCAAs, the team responded after a 32-point drubbing in the SEC tournament quarterfinals.
USC returned to practice, then gathered in the locker room on Monday night hoping for a miracle. None came, as the NCAA selection show finished without throwing the Gamecocks' logo onto the screen, but there was little time to reflect on it.
"I know I woke up this morning ready to practice, because I know we've got business to handle," May said.
Staley said it was a bit of a hindrance since the Gamecocks didn't know their opponent until around 11:45 p.m. on Monday, and they had to play at 7 p.m. today. But Appalachian was in the same situation, and had to travel on top of that.
At this time of year, X's and O's take a backseat to the adrenaline of trying to stay alive.
"Actually you have to just do what you do best because you don't have the time to prepare like a normal game," Staley said.
VIRGINIA?: Staley also addressed the rumors of her being a top candidate for the open job at Virginia, her alma mater. Staley's coach at UVa, Debbie Ryan, is stepping down after the Cavaliers finish their WNIT appearance.
"I've contacted coach Ryan," Staley said. "I think it's a sad time for her. It's a legend leaving the game. Other than that, I've been focused on our team and our opportunity to play in postseason play."
Staley did not confirm or deny that she had already been approached by the Cavaliers.
"I haven't addressed anything," she said, referring to a question if she had talked to the Gamecocks about the rumors. "I really don't have anything to address because I don't have anything to say to them. A lot of people have had me going to Virginia for a very long time, and that's been the furthest from my mind, because that's my coach."
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