Date: Thursday, January 3, 2013 Time: 9 p.m. Location: Columbia, S.C. Arena: Colonial Life Arena (18,000) Tickets: $7 adult/$4 youth TV: SportSouth (Dave Baker, play-by-play; Debbie Antonelli, analyst)
Online Video:ESPN3 (except SEC areas) Radio:GamecocksOnline.com Live Stats:GamecocksOnline.com Series History: UT leads 43-2; In Columbia: UT leads 18-1; In Knoxville: UT leads 20-1; Neutral Site: UT leads 4-0
The Gamecock defense has held 10 of its 13 opponents to less than 50 points to rank third in the country in scoring defense, allowing just 45.5 points per game. The Gamecocks allowed then-#1/1 Stanford (Dec. 21) to score just 53 points after the Cardinal entered the game averaging 78.6 per contest.
Senior guard Ieasia Walker swiped five steals against Western Carolina (Dec. 29) to become just the 13th Gamecock to amass at least 200 in her career. The three-year starter is also on track to reach the 1,000-point plateau this season, needing just 55 points to reach the mark.
Since last season's win over Tennessee in Knoxville earned it a national ranking, South Carolina has appeared in at least one of the two national polls in nine of the 14 poll weeks.
A South Carolina Win Would...
Be the Gamecocks' second over Tennessee in the last three meetings.
Be the Gamecocks' first home win over Tennessee since Jan. 23, 1980.
Make this the second-straight season the Gamecocks have opened SEC play with a victory.
By the Numbers
2 Teams in the nation that have allowed fewer points per game than the Gamecocks so far this season 3 Teams in the SEC that average more fans per home game than the Gamecocks' 3,929 5 Blocks by sophomore Elem Ibiam against Western Carolina (Dec. 29), tying her career high and the third-most in Colonial Life Arena history 5.0 Steals per game by senior guard Ieasia Walker over the last four games, including a career-high tying six against SC State 6 Double-doubles by sophomore forward Aleighsa Welch, the most in the SEC this season and the most by a Gamecock since the 2009-10 season 9 Double-doubles recorded by the Gamecocks this season after last season's squad posted just two 12 Regular-season, non-conference victories in 12 tries for the Gamecocks this season, matching the school record for winning percentage with the 2001-02 and 2002-03 teams 13 Gamecocks all-time that have swiped at least 200 career steals after senior guard Ieasia Walker joined the group with five steals against Western Carolina (Dec. 29) 14 Deficit at halftime for the Gamecocks against Drexel before coming back to win in overtime, the largest deficit South Carolina has overcome since rallying from 18 points down with 8:15 to play in the first half against LSU on Jan. 6, 2011 and the largest second-half deficit overcome by the Gamecocks in the Dawn Staley era 22 Points scored by the Gamecocks on 24 offensive rebounds against SC State (Dec. 21) 25.6 Points below its season average that the Gamecock defense held #1/1 Stanford (Dec. 19) in the four-point Cardinal victory 27 Free throws made by the Gamecocks against SC State (Dec. 21), a Dawn Staley era record 47.1 Points per game by the Gamecocks' starting lineup this season 528 Career rebounds by senior forward Ashley Bruner, placing her among just 26 Gamecocks to achieve the 500-rebound plateau. She needs 60 more to make the program's top-20.
The Tennessee Series
The Lady Vols have won all but two of the 45 meetings between the two programs, but the Gamecocks split last season's pair of games. South Carolina claimed the regular-season matchup, a 64-60 decision in Knoxville on Feb. 2, 2012. It was the Gamecocks' first victory over Tennessee on its home court and their first over the Lady Vols at any location since Jan. 23, 1980. UT got its revenge in the SEC Tournament semifinals, outlasting the weary Gamecocks 74-58 on March 3, 2012, en route to the tournament title.
Tonight's game marks just the 12th time Tennessee and South Carolina have met when both teams have been ranked in the top 25. The Lady Vols have a 10-1 edge in those games. Last season's win in Knoxville lifted the Gamecocks into the national rankings for just the second time in the Dawn Staley era. South Carolina has been ranked in at least one of the two major polls in nine of the 14 poll weeks since then.
Scouting the Lady Vols
Tennessee brings a 9-3 record into its SEC season debut tonight. The Lady Vols won their last two outings by double digits to shake off back-to-back road losses at Texas and Baylor.
Tennessee leads the SEC in scoring, averaging 79.2 points per game despite ranking just 10th in the conference in field goal percentage at 43.5 percent. The Lady Vols have cooled off somewhat lately, though, reaching 70 points just once in their last four games.
The Tennessee offense is balanced with three Lady Vols averaging double figures and two others added more than 8.0 points per game. Junior guard Meighan Simmons leads the way at 16.3 points per game to rank among the SEC's top five scorers. An active shooter, she has put up 15.0 field goal attempts per game.
Forward/center Bashaara Graves' 14.0 points per game are the most by an SEC freshman so far this season, and the first-year Lady Vol is hitting nearly 50.0 percent from the field. Sophomore center Isabelle Harrison rounds out the trio of double-digit scorers, netting 10.1 points per game while also swatting away 2.2 blocks per outing. Sophomore Ariel Massengale drives the offense with 3.9 assists per game and is solid with the ball, sporting a 1.6 assist-to-turnover ratio.
En route to its league-leading scoring average, Tennessee is hitting 31.8 percent from 3-point range and a sparkling 73.2 percent from the free throw line, which leads the SEC as well. The Lady Vols are out-rebounding opponents by 7.1 boards per game and have allowed just 61.2 points per game on 36.9 percent shooting, including 26.8 percent from the 3-point arc.
Head coach Holly Warlick is in her first season as a head coach.
South Carolina is 177-177 (.500) all-time in the month of January, including a 16-19 (.457) record under fifth-year head coach Dawn Staley. The Gamecocks are 104-74 (.584) in home games during the first month of the calendar year, including a 29-54 (.349) mark at Colonial Life Arena. South Carolina is 60-95 (.387) in January road games and 4-0 at neutral sites during the month.
Reading the Rankings
South Carolina is ranked in both national polls for the fourth-straight week. The Gamecocks climbed to No. 18 in the Associated Press Poll this week after finally cracking into that ranking at No. 24 the week of Dec. 10. It is the program's highest AP rank since the end of the 2002-03 season. The Gamecocks moved up a spot to No. 15 in the USA Today Coaches Poll.
The Gamecocks were receiving votes in both polls right out of the gate, finally breaking into the coaches poll at No. 24 on Nov. 26 behind a 7-0 record. South Carolina moved up to No. 21 the following week before climbing to No. 18 in the Dec. 10 poll. The Gamecocks have risen one spot in each of the last three polls. The AP voters added the Gamecocks to their top 25 at No. 24 the week of Dec. 10 before lifting them to No. 21 the following week. Following a strong showing against No. 1/1 Stanford, the AP voters bumped South Carolina up two spots, and the Gamecocks climbed one more this week.
Rendering the RPI
With a 12-1 record, including five wins away from home, the Gamecocks are among the nation's top 30 in RPI (varies depending on the organization). South Carolina is one of five SEC schools ranked in the top 30 in RPI.
The Gamecocks' strength of schedule ranks in the top 90 and should continue to build over the course of the season. The Gamecocks are slated to play six teams currently ranked in the top 25. Beginning Dec. 19 against then-No. 1/1 Stanford, the matchups with ranked foes include road games at Georgia (10/11) and Arkansas (23/-), home and road games against Kentucky (6/6) and home games against Tennessee (12/13) and Texas A&M (24/22).
Movin' On Up
South Carolina seniors Ashley Bruner and Ieasia Walker have made the most of their time in the Garnet and Black, posting and heading toward significant milestones while moving up the all-time leaderboards in several categories.
Bruner made the first move by becoming just the 26th Gamecock to pull down at least 500 career rebounds, hitting the mark as part of her seven-rebound outing at Seton Hall (Dec. 2). Currently 25th on the total rebounding list with 528, she can move into the top 20 with 60 more boards, which would tie her for the 20th spot with Ilona Burgrova (2005-08). With 72 more rebounds this season, Bruner will join just 17 other Gamecocks to reach 600 career boards.
Walker became just the 13th Gamecock to amass at least 200 career steals with her five against Western Carolina (Dec. 29). Currently with 201 steals, she needs just 11 more to join Shaunzinksi Gortman (1999-2002) and Sharon Rivers (1980-83) in the all-time top 10. With 945 career points, Walker is on track to join the Gamecocks' 1,000-point club as the 28th member, only 11 of whom have also posted at least 200 steals.
South Carolina was picked by both the media and league's coaches to finish in the middle of the 14-team pack in the Southeastern Conference. The media predicted the Gamecocks would take seventh place, while the coaches slotted South Carolina into sixth.
Senior guard Ieasia Walker drew preseason second-team all-conference honors from both groups. She is the team's lone returning starter and the highest returning scorer from last year's squad. Her 7.9 points per game came with 3.2 assists per outing, which combined to earn her Second-Team All-SEC honors for the second-straight year.