NO. 16 SOUTH CAROLINA GAMECOCKS (20-5, 8-4 SEC)
OLE MISS REBELS (9-15, 2-9)
When: 2 p.m. today
Where: Tad Smith Coliseum, Oxford, Miss.
TV: SEC Network
Tickets: Available at the box office
South Carolina's probable starters: G Ieasia Walker 5-8 Sr. (9.6 ppg, 4.0 rpg); G Sancheon White 5-10 Sr. (4.7 ppg, 4.1 rpg); G Tiffany Mitchell 5-7 Fr. (9.6 ppg, 5.7 rpg); F Aleighsa Welch 6-0 So. (12.0 ppg, 7.9 rpg); F Ashley Bruner 6-0 Sr. (9.5 ppg, 7.5 rpg)
Ole Miss' probable starters: G Valencia McFarland 5-4 Jr. (11.4 ppg, 4.4 rpg): G Gracie Frizzell 5-10 Fr. (7.4 ppg, 1.8 rpg); G Diara Moore 5-7 Jr. (11.3 ppg, 3.7 rpg); F Danielle McCray 6-1 So. (6.4 ppg, 5.2 rpg); F Courtney Marbra 6-1 Sr. (5.5 ppg, 5.5 rpg)
Notes: South Carolina has lost two straight after winning six in a row. …. The Gamecocks shot 56 percent from the field and 68.2 percent from the line during their last game but still lost. The field mark was the second-highest under coach Dawn Staley and the line performance was a season-high. … USC is a tad beaten up, with Elem Ibiam playing with a broken nose and Welch playing on a sprained ankle. Each should be fine. … Ole Miss leads the series 17-15 and 8-4 in Oxford, but USC has won three straight and six of eight. … A win gives the Gamecocks their 100th regular-season SEC victory in history, and would be the fifth regular-season SEC road win this season, which would be the most in program history. … USC is ranked No. 14 in the ESPN/USA Today coaches' poll.
Next game: USC hosts Mississippi State at 3 p.m. on Feb. 24.
In a strange way, it's good that No. 16 South Carolina has lost two straight games and is now heavily depending on other teams' results in its quest for a top-four SEC finish.
With two straight losses, there should be no overlooking today's opponent, even if Ole Miss is one of the league's worst teams.
"Coming off a two-game slide, I don't think we're going to take anybody lightly," coach Dawn Staley said on Friday. "We know how hard wins are to come by in this league, especially on the road. This is all they're playing for. Hopefully they won't be spoilers for us."
The Rebels are suffering through a miserable season, made moreso by that they don't know what will happen next. Coach Adrian Wiggins was fired before he ever coached a game after recruiting violations were discovered from his assistant coaches (Wiggins himself was never implicated, but Rebels brass felt that he had to go as well). As Ole Miss and the NCAA are working together on an investigation, the Rebels volunteered to vacate their postseason.
They have nothing to play for, but beat rival Mississippi State in their last game. Staley knows how dangerous that can be, but also how stung her team is after having Texas A&M and Kentucky each on the ropes in the past week, and losing each time.
"Any time we felt like we were in the game, very capable of winning, it's tough to give it away that way," Staley said. "You have to learn from them. I think we can play with anybody in this league. We still have to make plays down the stretch. That's the difference-maker in the Texas A&M game, in the Kentucky game. We weren't able to do that."
A&M was lost due to far too many missed shots - easy shots, right at the rim or at the free-throw line. Kentucky featured a blown 14-point halftime lead, and the Wildcats just making one too many second-half shots.
If there was something to be gained from the Kentucky loss, it was that the Gamecocks' sputtering offense found itself. USC could hardly miss, and even with Elem Ibiam playing with a broken nose and protective facemask, she played outstanding. Asia Dozier was fine as well, finally discovering her missing shot.
Staley hopes that carries over. USC should be favored in all of its remaining games, and if the offense stays on this trend, it shouldn't have to worry. Winning out could give the Gamecocks the mindset of what the need to do to be successful in the postseason, even if they don't win a top-four seed.
"Those teams that we have lost to, we will see them again, at some point. And the stakes will be a little bit higher," Staley said. "I think we need to get into the mindset of winning those games. You have to actually do it. You have to be able to make plays because nothing's going to come easy for us.
"We're going to keep knocking at the door until we actually kick it down."