S.C. STATE LADY BULLDOGS (8-2)
NO. 21 SOUTH CAROLINA GAMECOCKS (10-1)
When: Noon today
Where: Colonial Life Arena, Columbia
Tickets: Available at the box office
S.C. State's probable starters: G Tiara Knotts 5-4 Sr. (15.2 ppg, 3.8 rpg); G Kourtney Williams 5-9 So. (8.5 ppg, 2.2 rpg); G Cabriel Duren 5-6 Sr. (7.3 ppg, 2.9 rpg); F Brittany Cochran 6-1 Jr. (4.9 ppg, 4.3 rpg); C Fannie Goodwin 6-2 Sr. (6.3 ppg, 6.5 rpg)
South Carolina's probable starters: G Ieasia Walker 5-8 Sr. (9.2 ppg, 3.3 rpg); G Sancheon White 5-10 Sr. (5.9 ppg, 4.1 rpg); G Tiffany Mitchell 5-7 Fr. (10.4 ppg, 6.2 rpg); F Aleighsa Welch 6-0 So. (12.4 ppg, 9.1 rpg); F Ashley Bruner 6-0 Sr. (10.5 ppg, 7.4 rpg)
Notes: South Carolina is right back on the horse after a hard-fought loss against Stanford on Wednesday. … The Gamecocks' first loss left it with a tie for the best start in school history. … S.C. State is off to its best start in 31 years. … USC leads the series 23-9 and has won the last 19 straight meetings. … USC coach Dawn Staley is going for her 250th career win. … The Lady Bulldogs lost to Hampton, which USC defeated at the U.S. Virgin Islands Paradise Jam. … Walker needs 10 steals to reach 200 for her career, which would make her the 13th player in school history to do so. … USC's defense is second in the country in points allowed, and held Stanford to 53 points, over 25 points off its season average. … USC is also second in the county in rebounding margin.
Next game: USC hosts Western Carolina at 7 p.m. on Dec. 29.
South Carolina was upset about coming so close to its first win over a No. 1 team, but understood why it lost. That alone shows the difference between a flash-in-the-pan team playing well that nearly tumbled Stanford and a consistent program that's had success and is ready - and expectant - of more.
The Gamecocks were deservedly proud of their effort in a 53-49 loss to the No. 1 Cardinal on Wednesday but weren't just resting on their performance. A team that had not had a lot of wins in previous years would have been content to accept the moral victory; this team didn't.
"It showed the potential of the team," said forward Aleighsa Welch. "I feel like now, we can kind of just take this game and set it as a bar of where we need to play, to get to where we want to be."
Part of that is learning how to immediately shelve a loss, including one that was the first of the year and one that was painful to experience. The No. 21 Gamecocks are right back at it today, with a noon tipoff against S.C. State before they can break for Christmas.
"I think this team is very confident, in its own right," coach Dawn Staley said. "Our leaders have played in big games. We played three games in the Virgin Islands, and they were three tough games, so I think mentally, our players are prepared for the battle that we'll have."
USC won all three games it played in consecutive games in the islands, and is prepared for that kind of quick turnaround, but it's about the mental side of it. While Ieasia Walker said that the Gamecocks were living by their 24-hour rule - one day to celebrate or forget the previous game - it may be hard to actually do it.
Still, the Gamecocks knew that even with a win over Stanford, they were going to have to live with ratcheted expectations. Staley even mentioned that the Stanford game should serve as a springboard, in that USC should beat the teams that it's supposed to beat and then pull some upsets.
The Lady Bulldogs are in the former category. While off to their best start in 31 years, S.C. State has nothing to lose, just the type of dangerous mentality that can give a ranked team fits. If the Bulldogs lose, they were supposed to anyway. If they win …
All the hype for the Gamecocks will be severely diminished.
Welch and Walker are coming off standout games, where they took over and hit the big shots. The S.C. State game should hopefully get Ashley Bruner and Tiffany Mitchell back on track - while Bruner was active against Stanford, her shot selection against the Cardinal's bigs was poor, and Mitchell shot a miserable 1-of-13.
"She's a fighter. She's going to have opportunities to learn. She never stopped playing hard," Staley said. "When you do that, you're going to find your way on the floor. Tiffany's made some big plays for us this year. Just because her shot wasn't falling tonight, we're not going to go away from her."
The season is a constant growing process. Another step for the Gamecocks to take comes today.