NO. 15 SOUTH CAROLINA GAMECOCKS (19-3, 7-2 SEC)
ALABAMA CRIMSON TIDE (12-10, 2-7)
When: 7:30 p.m. today
Where: Foster Auditorium, Tuscaloosa, Ala.
Tickets: Available at the box office
South Carolina's probable starters: G Ieasia Walker 5-8 Sr. (9.5 ppg, 3.6 rpg); G Sancheon White 5-10 Sr. (4.9 ppg, 3.9 rpg); G Tiffany Mitchell 5-7 Fr. (10.1 ppg, 6.2 rpg); F Aleighsa Welch 6-0 So. (12.0 ppg, 8.0 rpg); F Ashley Bruner 6-0 Sr. (9.1 ppg, 7.1 rpg)
Alabama's probable starters: G Jasmine Robinson 5-7 Jr. (10.1 ppg, 3.6 rpg); G Daisha Simmons 5-10 So. (12.2 ppg, 4.6 rpg); G Meghan Perkins 5-11 Sr. (9.1 ppg, 5.3 rpg); G Shafontaye Myers 5-8 Jr. (11.9 ppg, 2.5 rpg); F Kaneisha Horn 6-1 So. (8.5 ppg, 5.5 rpg)
Notes: South Carolina attempts to win its sixth straight game. …. USC would clinch its second straight 20-win season with a victory and the 12th in school history, plus the eighth for coach Dawn Staley. … Staley has never lost to Alabama in six tries. … USC leads the all-time series 16-15. … Assistant coach Nikki McCray is on maternity leave and director of operations Cynthia Jordan is taking her place on the bench. … The Gamecocks are at their highest ranking since 2003. … The Gamecocks will equal their SEC win total of last year with three more wins. USC has improved its overall and SEC win total every year under Staley. … USC is ranked No. 12 in the ESPN/USA Today coaches' poll.
Next game: USC hosts No. 14 Texas A&M at 3:30 p.m. on Sunday.
South Carolina, which stayed at No. 15 in the latest Associated Press Top 25, doesn't have a lot to complain about these days. The Gamecocks are in a three-way tie for second place in the SEC, which is only one game from being in a tie for first place, and have won five straight games.
While coach Dawn Staley loves her team's focus, constantly saying that this is a squad that stays in the moment, there comes a time where she has to find a button or two to push. You know, just to make sure that everybody's on the same page.
So it was that even after winning the past three games, Staley went back to practice after Sunday's win over Auburn and stressed USC's weakness.
"We've really been concentrating on the rebounding part and getting back to being more disciplined on the defensive end," Staley said on Tuesday, two days before tonight's tipoff at Alabama. "Last couple of games, we've had some breakdowns on the perimeter and in the post. We've got to get back to doing what we do best, and that's defending and rebounding."
USC (19-3, 7-2 SEC) vacuum-cleaned the boards at Florida, yanking an incredible 59 to the Gators' 41. Since then, the Gamecocks have been out-rebounded in three straight games.
They've won the games, but Staley knows that letting her team slip in any area can be dangerous, especially with two Top 25 opponents on tap after the Crimson Tide. The Gamecocks are not good enough offensively to let any part of their defense fall down, not if they expect to keep challenging for first place.
USC doesn't have a lot of height or bulk, but has been masterful on the glass all season. There's a reason for that.
"I think rebounding is a decision," Staley said. "You're either going to rebound or not going to rebound. Is there some skill involved in it? Yes, there's some skill involved in it, but at the same time, it's a hustle stat. You have to be able to beat people to the ball, you have to be able to get yourself in position to create an advantage."
Auburn pushed the Gamecocks around in the post, using its height to do the same double-bounce, back-to-the-basket move every time. The Crimson Tide are unlikely to mimic it, since they, like USC, are built around speed.
But the defensive mentality, of never being beaten to a loose ball or a ball off the rim, has to improve. As the calendar has turned to February, the chances to significantly improve in any area are getting scarce.
USC doesn't want to regress. Not now. The Gamecocks are behind in tiebreakers to Georgia and Tennessee, but they hold one over Kentucky and host Texas A&M on Sunday. Those five teams are in the logjam for first and second place in the SEC with seven games to play.
"I think for us, we talk about things opening up to give us an opportunity to win the SEC championship," Staley said. "We want that. I think if we can continue to get these road wins and get our defense and our rebounding back to where it was 10 games ago, it's anybody's game."