NO. 16 SOUTH CAROLINA GAMECOCKS (20-4, 8-3 SEC)
NO. 9 KENTUCKY WILDCATS (21-3, 9-2)
When: 7 p.m. Thursday
Where: Memorial Coliseum, Lexington, Ky.
Tickets: Available at the box office
Kentucky's probable starters: G A'dia Mathies 5-9 Sr. (15.8 ppg, 4.5 rpg); G Kastine Evans 5-8 Jr. (3.9 ppg, 1.9 rpg); G Jennifer O'Neill 5-6 So. (9.8 ppg, 2.0 rpg); F Samarie Walker 6-1 Jr. (9.6 pg, 8.7 rpg); C DeNesha Stallworth 6-3 Jr. (12.9 ppg, 6.0 rpg)
South Carolina's probable starters: G Ieasia Walker 5-8 Sr. (9.6 ppg, 3.9 rpg); G Sancheon White 5-10 Sr. (4.8 ppg, 4.1 rpg); G Tiffany Mitchell 5-7 Fr. (9.8 ppg, 5.8 rpg); F Aleighsa Welch 6-0 So. (11.9 ppg, 8.1 rpg); F Ashley Bruner 6-0 Sr. (9.4 ppg, 7.4 rpg)
Notes: South Carolina had a six-game winning streak snapped with a loss to Texas A&M. …. USC beat Kentucky, then ranked No. 5, 55-50 on Jan. 24. … Kentucky leads the all-time series 30-19, including 18-5 in Lexington. … Walker leads the SEC with 3.0 steals per game. … USC is attempting to win its 100th all-time SEC regular-season victory. … The Gamecocks have not beaten Kentucky in back-to-back games since winning four straight from 2002-03. … USC is ranked No. 14 in the ESPN/USA Today coaches' poll.
Next game: USC tips off at Ole Miss at 2 p.m. on Sunday.
It hurt, to lose a game like that because of South Carolina's own shortcomings, to lose on a shot by a former player, to lose in a game that meant so much to the league standings. No doubt it hurt.
But there is another game to play, another crucial game to play, and the No. 16 Gamecocks have no time to think about what could have been. The only thing that matters is the next game, which is Thursday night.
Because that's the only one that they can control.
"It still hurts, but we left it in the past and we're focusing on Kentucky now," senior guard Sancheon White said on Wednesday. "We're just trying to focus on the rest of the season and just trying to win every game."
USC is back on the trail on Thursday, hoping to complete a season sweep of No. 9 Kentucky and get itself back in contention for the SEC championship and a top-four finish, which would guarantee a bye out of the first two rounds of the SEC tournament. Because Tennessee leads the league at 10-1 and Texas A&M is right behind at 9-2, the Gamecocks need significant help to reach those goals, since they lost games to each team and have no way of overcoming those tiebreakers. With only five regular-season games left to play, USC has to win all of its games and hope the rest of the league beats up on the other teams enough to have a chance.
A title is unlikely, but a top-four finish could be gained with a win over the Wildcats. That would give the Gamecocks a tiebreaker over Kentucky for a top finish, and while a loss would only mean a look at a second tiebreaker, USC would be likely to lose that since the second tiebreaker is record against the league's top seed (Tennessee or Texas A&M at this point).
There's a lot less scoreboard-watching and a lot more trying to control what they can control on the Gamecocks' side. Specifically, that's finding a way to score. USC hasn't been a great offensive team all year, but to lose to the Aggies when missing 12 free throws, and also missing 23 shots five feet from the rim, in a two-point game, was particularly galling.
"We make a third of our shots against Texas A&M, we win the basketball game," coach Dawn Staley said. "It hurts when we need a bucket. It hurts when you need a definite basket, who do you go to?"
USC has had a different leading scorer for the past four games, which is great for opponents having to game-plan so many different looks, but it also stresses the need for somebody to call for the ball in a tight game. Going against a team like Kentucky, which is similar to USC in how it likes to force turnovers and run in transition, the Gamecocks will need an answer.
They beat the Wildcats three weeks ago by playing star A'dia Mathies aggressively, and handling Kentucky's press. They hope to duplicate it at Kentucky's house, although they obviously know it won't be easy.
"I don't think it will be difficult at all," said White, the defensive specialist who asks to guard the opponent's best player. "Just like before - just stick to the game plan. I think they'll bring a lot of energy just because it's their home floor, and we beat them one time. I mean, I would if I was them."
The atmosphere will be raucous, but it's nothing that Staley's troops haven't seen. The Gamecocks are flustered early, it will be a long night and an almost definite invite to a fifth-place finish. They handle themselves and remember what got them to this point, they should be fine.
"We have to weather the storm probably the first seven to 10 minutes of the basketball game, and then things should settle down," Staley said. "If we're not turning the ball over, if we're allowing them to let their pressure bother us, it could get out of hand pretty quickly. If we can avoid that, I think we'll put them back on their heels a little bit."