Feb. 4, 2018
#7/6 South Carolina at #2/2 Mississippi State
COLUMBIA, S.C. — No. 7/6 South Carolina continues the toughest eight-day stretch of its season Monday night with the third of three game against top-11 teams in the nation. The Gamecocks (18-4, 7-2 SEC) and #2/2 Mississippi State (23-0, 9-0 SEC) will tipoff from Humphrey Coliseum at 7 p.m. ET on ESPN2. South Carolina has won the last 11 meetings with the Bulldogs, including three tough matchups last season.
South Carolina Notables
Tonight's game marks the seventh straight of this series in which both teams have been ranked in the top 20, a stretch that includes four top-10 showdowns.
Tonight's game features the SEC's top two highest scoring and best shooting teams with Mississippi State leading the scoring effort and South Carolina topping the field goal percentage race.
The featured individual matchup tonight will likely be South Carolina's two-time SEC Player of the Year A'ja Wilson and Mississippi State's Teaira McCowan. Wilson leads the SEC in scoring (22.7 ppg) with McCowan in third (19.8), while McCowan paces the league on the glass (13.0 rpg) with Wilson in third (11.5). The Gamecocks' three-time All-American separates herself from the rest of the nation with her ability to change the game in other ways. She is the only player in the country to rank among the top 20 in points, rebounds and blocked shots. Wilson is also the rare post player who can create her own shot, taking defenders off the dribble and shooting mid- and long-range jumpers.
On the point guard front, Gamecock Tyasha Harris' 6.5 assists per game lead the SEC (and rank 15th in the nation) with MSU's Morgan William coming in fifth at 4.6. The pair are 1-2 in the league in assist-to-turnover ratio, with William on top. South Carolina's sophomore out-scores her Bulldog counterpart 11.3 ppg to 7.0 ppg. Harris takes the edge defensively, ranking third in the SEC in steals (2.5).
By the Numbers
2 South Carolina freshman all-time who have scored 20 points against the #1 team in the nation after Bianca Jackson netted 20 against UConn (Feb. 1)
4 Gamecocks with double-figure scoring averages in the last five games – Wilson (20.5), Jennings (15.6), Jackson (10.6) and Harris (10.6)
7.0 Average national ranking of the teams that have defeated South Carolina this season – #6 Notre Dame (Nov. 26), at #15 Missouri (Jan. 7), #6 Tennessee (Jan. 14) and #1 UConn (Feb. 1)
The Mississippi State Series
After winning the last 11 meetings, South Carolina leads the series 20-16. The current win streak snapped a four-game skid and includes three wins last season. After the regular-season game was decided by just three points last season, the two championship games when the Gamecocks' way by double digits. In last season's three victories, then-junior forward A'ja Wilson averaged 21.3 points, 9.3 rebounds and 3.7 blocks and shot 60.0 percent from the field. A freshman in that series, Tyasha Harris shot 54.5 percent from the field to score 6.0 points per game while handing out 3.3 assists per game. Only two other Gamecocks on this season's roster played all three of last season's games against the Bulldogs – Doniyah Cliney and Mikiah Herbert Harrigan – combining to play just 25.3 minutes per game in the series. As a team, the Gamecocks averaged 63.3 points while yielding just 55.0 per game to the Bulldogs over the series.
Same Names, Different Faces
While tonight's game features the two programs that battled for the SEC and NCAA titles last season, the rosters show that it is far from a rematch of the two teams. Both squads lost multiple starters with the Gamecocks' roster for at least one of last season's three games against the Bulldogs missing three WNBA top-10 draft picks. Breaking down what each team returns from those three head-to-head contests, South Carolina returns just 96 of their 190 points (50.5%) compared to Mississippi State's 111 of 165 points (67.3%). The Bulldogs' current lineup features 47.2 percent of its rebounding against the Gamecocks last season, while South Carolina's is just 44.1 percent. Mississippi State also holds the end in minutes played – 57.2% to 48.8% – and assists 64.5% to 50.0%. The only area that the current Gamecocks hold an edge over the Bulldogs is on the defensive end, where they return 66.7 percent of blocked shots and 52.9 percent of steals compared to Mississippi State's 45.5 percent and 50.0 percent, respectively.
With a 4-4 mark this season, South Carolina is 54-49 against nationally ranked opponents under head coach Dawn Staley, although that record is skewed by the early seasons of her tenure as the Gamecocks are 39-10 versus ranked foes since the start of the 2014-15 campaign. South Carolina is 17-7 against top-10 opponents during that time. Staley’s Gamecocks are 17-15 against ranked opponents on their home courts after winning eight the last 10 road games against ranked foes and 13 of the last 19 such contests dating back to the start of 2013-14. Senior forward A'ja Wilson leads the Gamecocks against ranked foes, averaging 20.9 points and 12.0 rebounds. Sophomore Tyasha Harris' offense has been especially potent against the nation's best teams as she is second on the team with 14.0 points per game while still averaging 5.8 assists. Both of her 20-point games have come against ranked teams, including her season-high 28 against #6/6 Tennessee (Jan. 14).
Junior transfer Alexis Jennings has strengthened the Gamecocks’ frontcourt, providing a steady, physical presence in the lane. After averaging 8.9 points and 5.4 rebounds in her two seasons at Kentucky, the powerful post has elevated her play this season, posting 12.7 points and 7.4 rebounds per game to rank second on the team and among the SEC’s top 25 in both categories.
Jennings is third in the SEC in field goal percentage (.626), 14th in the league in rebounding and 23rd in scoring. Two of her four double-doubles so far this season have come against top-15 foes in #15/13 Maryland (Nov. 13, 12 pts/13 rebs) and #14/16 Duke (Dec. 3, 21 pts/10 rebs).
Jennings has 11 other double-figure scoring games this season, including three 20-point outings – 25 vs. St. John's (Nov. 25), 27 at Vanderbilt (Jan. 18) and 22 against Arkansas (Jan. 25).
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