The 13th ranked South Carolina Gamecocks (13-1, 1-0) return to Columbia today to open the SEC home slate against Vanderbilt (12-2, 1-0).
Time: 1 p.m.
Site: Colonial Life Arena, Columbia, SC
What to watch for:
South Carolina won its conference opener at Arkansas this past Thursday 55-51. South Carolina led by as much as 16, but struggled to put Arkansas away down the stretch. Much of the blame falls on poor free throw shooting. The Gamecocks went 10-17 from the stripe in the second half, allowing the Razorbacks to close the deficit.
Free-throw shooting has been a concern for the Gamecocks all season. With strong post play from Aleighsa Welch, Alaina Coates and Elem Ibiam, they have shot more than 200 more free throws than theeir opponents. However, the Gamecocks are making only 63.8 percent of their attempts.
Vanderbilt holds a commanding 21-9 edge in the all-time series with South Carolina, including an 8-6 edge in Columbia. South Carolina has won the last three meetings, its longest streak in series history. Vanderbilt enters the game playing well. The Commodores have won nine straight games and upset Georgia in their conference opener. Vanderbilt is paced by seniors Christina Foggie (18.3 points per game) and Jasmine Lister (15.6 points per game).
Sophomore guard Tiffany Mitchell has emerged as South Carolina's leading scorer, averaging 15.1 points per game to lead four players in double figures. Mitchell has scored 15 or more points in eight of the last nine games, is shooting better the 50 percent from the floor, and is one of the few Gamecocks shooting at a decent clip from the free throw line (.714).
* Sophomore point guard Khadijah Sessions has missed the last four games after injuring her ankle in the loss to North Carolina. Sessions traveled with the team to Arkansas but did not play and will not be available Sunday. Sessions has begun practicing again, but the team is being cautious with her return.
"We're not ready to put her out there," Dawn Staley said. "We want her to be available for the long haul."
* Tiffany Davis has started at point guard during Sessions' absence.
Vanderbilt is without freshman Rebeka Dahlman. Dahlman was averaging 11.4 points per game and shooting 51.4 percent on threes when she was sidelined. Dahlman underwent two procedure to treat a blood clot.
South Carolina's "Drive for 5" remains within reach. South Carolina has launched a campaign to average 5,000 fans for each home game. Entering conference play, it is averaging 4,997 fans per game. That figure puts the Gamecocks third in the SEC in home attendance.
* South Carolina inked four commits during the early signing period. Point guard Bianca Cuevas (Bronx, N.Y./Nazareth Regional), the number 44 prospect in the country according to ESPNW, signed her National Letter of Intent. Cuevas joins signees Doniyah Cliney (guard, Newark, N.J./Malcolm X Shabazz, number 105), Kaydra Duckett (guard, Columbia, S.C./Dreher, number 32), Jatarie White (center, Charlotte, N.C./Providence Day, number seven). The Gamecocks' recruiting class is currently ranked fourth by ESPNW, and they are still in play for number one overall recruit A'ja Wilson. Wilson attends Heathwood Hall in Columbia.
After Vanderbilt, the Gamecocks next game will be Thursday, January 9, at home against sixth-ranked Kentucky. That game could have huge implications for conference standings and ultimately NCAA seeding.
A win over Vanderbilt would even Staley's career record in the SEC at 40-40 ... Welch leads the SEC and is fourth in the nation in shooting percentage (.664) ... Freshman Coates has emerged as the Gamecocks' leading rebounder, edging Welch. Both average over seven rebounds a game ... South Carolina has the nation's third-ranked scoring defense, allowing a mere 48.5 points per game.