WBB Hoops preview: Arkansas

The SEC-leading and sixth-ranked Gamecocks return home to face off against Arkansas on Sunday. It is the second meeting of the year for the two teams, with South Carolina winning the first game 55-51.
Time: 2 p.m.
Site: Colonial Life Arena
TV: SEC TV (WKTC in Columbia)
What to watch for:
South Carolina (21-2, 9-1 SEC) and Arkansas (16-7, 3-7) opened conference play against each other back on January 2 in Fayetteville. The Gamecocks led by 12 at halftime, but couldn't protect the lead and had to hold on for the 55-51 victory. Tiffany Mitchell hit four free throws down the stretch to secure the win, and finished with 16 points and 11 rebounds. Alaina Coates had 11 points and 12 rebounds, and Aleighsa Welch had 11 points. Elem Ibiam was hampered by foul trouble and only contributed four points and four rebounds in just 15 minutes. Jessica Jackson and Keira Peak each scored 14 for Arkansas.
That game was reminiscent of the Gamecocks of the past two years. They shot only 40 percent and held the Razorbacks to 26 percent shooting. That was the recipe for success the last two seasons, but since then Dawn Staley has opened up the offense and the Gamecocks have responded brilliantly. They are now averaging 49 percent shooting and 75 points per game and running opponents out of the gym.
That will be the plan for the rematch against Arkansas. South Carolina will try to take a big lead sometime in the first half and allow its defense to clamp down. Typically that big run has occurred leading into halftime, after opponents have given the Gamecocks their best shot.
This game brings a close to the "middle section" of the Gamecocks' schedule. This was a stretch of four games against teams at the bottom of the SEC standings. It was necessary for the Gamecocks to win these games to keep pace in the SEC standings, and they have done just that. If the Gamecocks beat Arkansas, they will maintain their spot atop the SEC as they head into a tough final stretch. Up next after an off night Thursday is a pair of road contests against LSU and Kentucky.
This game will be South Carolina's "Play 4 Kay" game. The Gamecocks will wear special shooting shirts and pink accessories to raise breast cancer awareness and honor former NC State head coach Kay Yow. South Carolina also has another game designated to raise breast cancer awareness on February 23, that time in honor of assistant coach Nikki McCray, who recently announced she has been diagnosed with breast cancer.
Sunday is also Women's Basketball and South Carolina Department of Social Services Health and Fitness Day. Giveaways and door prizes that celebrate healthy eating and physical activity will be given out on the concourse before the game, and advertisements featuring Staley will be premiered at halftime.
Ibiam blocked seven shots in the last outing against Mississippi State, one shy of the school record in a game. She now has the South Carolina single-season record with 63.
Coates was named SEC Freshman of the Week last week, the fourth time this year she has won the award. The conference record is five. Coates is two double-doubles away from tying the Gamecock freshman record for double-doubles (nine by Kelsey Bone in 2008-09). Coates has already set the freshman record for blocked shots with 49.
Welch is 40 points away from reaching the 1,000 point mark for her career. She would be the 29th Gamecock to reach that milestone.
Quick hits:
The Gamecocks are seeking their 14th win of the season at Colonial Life Arena. The arena record for wins in a season is 15… The Gamecocks have blocked a school-record 14 shots twice this season, against Kentucky and Mississippi State… Ibiam is still a ways away from the career blocks record. Lakesha Tolliver has the record with 177, while Ibiam sits at 110… South Carolina's number six ranking is the highest since it was ranked fourth in 1982… Arkansas leads the all-time series between the two teams 17-11, but South Carolina has won three straight over Arkansas.