Opponent: No. 15/15 Kentucky (19-6, 7-5 SEC) Date: Thursday, February 20, 2014, 7 p.m. Site: Lexington, Ky. Arena: Memorial Coliseum (8,000) TV: Fox Sports South (Garry Gupton, pxp; Christi Thomas, analyst; Carl Nathe, sideline) Radio: 1320 AM The Fan/107.5 FM in progress (Brad Muller); GamecocksOnline.com Live Video: None Live Stats:GamecocksOnline.com Series History: UK leads 31-19
South Carolina Notables
The Gamecocks moved into the Associated Press top five last week for the first time since Jan. 10, 1982. This week 's No. 4 ranking matches the one on that date. South Carolina's highest ever rank in the AP Poll was No. 2, which it held for three weeks in December 1981.
With four regular-season games remaining, South Carolina has already tied the school record for SEC victories with 11. The Gamecocks are looking to best the 2001-02 team's program-best SEC finish of tied for second. South Carolina was the second seed in that season's SEC Tournament and a program-best No. 3 seed (East Region) in the NCAA Tournament that year.
South Carolina leads the SEC and is fifth in the nation with a .487 field goal percentage, but just one Gamecock ranks among the SEC's top 15 in the category thanks to the balance of the South Carolina offense. The SEC and the NCAA require a minimum of five made field goals to qualify for the field goal percentage rankings. So, while Aleighsa Welch leads the league and ranks eighth in the nation, shooting 58.8 percent, Tiffany Mitchell's 53.0 percent, which would rank third in the SEC, is three made baskets shy of qualifying. In SEC play, no Gamecock ranks among the league's individual field goal percentage leaders as Mitchell (.527) and Welch (.503) miss the minimum by one and Coates (.613) is three short.
A South Carolina Win Would...
Be the Gamecocks' school-record 12th SEC win of the season.
Be the Gamecocks' sixth SEC road win of the season, breaking last season's school record of five.
Be give the Gamecocks 24 regular-season victories for the first time in school history, breaking last season's record of 23 prior to postseason play.
By the Numbers
3.6 Assists per SEC game each by sophomores Asia Dozier and Tiffany Mitchell to tie for 10th in the SEC 5 Points needed by junior forward Aleighsa Welch to reach 1,000 in her career 5 Different Gamecocks who have been the team's high scorer in a game this season - Alaina Coates, Asia Dozier, Elem Ibiam, Tiffany Mitchell and Aleighsa Welch 6 Gamecocks who have posted (or tied for) a team high in assists at least once this season 8 Different Gamecocks who have scored in double figures at least once this season 11 Games this season in which sophomore guard Tiffany Mitchell has had a hand in at least one-third of the offense (points plus assists) - highlighted by helping to deliver 52.2 percent of the Gamecocks' 69 points against Winthrop (Dec. 20) - during which the Gamecocks are 10-1 12 Games in which South Carolina has shot at least 50.0 percent from the field this season - including two games over 60.0 percent (Charleston Southern, Ole Miss) - after reaching the mark just 12 times in the previous five seasons under Staley 14 Weeks in which the Gamecocks have ranked fifth or higher in the Associated Press poll all-time. South Carolina returned to the AP top five in the Feb. 10 poll for the first time since Jan. 10, 1982. The Gamecocks' best ever ranking was No. 2, which it held for three weeks in December 1981.
Kentucky Series Notes
The Wildcats lead the series 31-10, but the Gamecocks have won two of the last three outings. South Carolina opened this season's series with a 68-59 victory as the Gamecocks rode a 10-point halftime lead to the win at Colonial Life Arena on Jan. 9. Aleighsa Welch and Alaina Coates each posted a double-double in the game with Coates pulling down a South Carolina freshman record 17 rebounds - still the most in an SEC game this season.
The teams split the series last season with each winning on its home court. In the five games spanning the last three seasons, the average margin of victory 5.8 points with the Gamecocks' nine-point win this season the largest of the stretch. In the last four seasons (seven games), the winning team has escaped by just an average of 7.4 points with just one game resulting in a double-digit win (Jan. 13, 2011, UK, 66-48 in Lexington).
South Carolina is just 5-19 against the Wildcats in Lexington with its last win coming by a 65-57 score on March 2, 2008, in Rupp Arena.
For the first time in her tenure at South Carolina, head coach Dawn's Staley's Gamecocks look different - on the court and in the box score. After seasons of building around defense, Staley finally has a group that is designed for offensive efficiency. The Gamecocks are scoring more (74.6 ppg, 52nd in nation) and more efficiently (.487 FG %age - 1st in SEC, 5th in nation) than at any time in the Staley era. And, after seasons of talented guards generating their own offense, Staley's 2013-14 success is predicated on getting the ball inside - three primary post players combine to score 47.6 percent of the team's points - and on ball movement creating the best shots as 60.5 percent of made field goals have been assisted. Defense is still a staple of the program with the Gamecocks ranking second in the SEC and fourth in the nation, allowing just 53.9 points per game.
Reading the RPI
With a 23-2 record, including a 9-1 mark on the road, the Gamecocks are eighth in the NCAA RPI released on Feb. 17. South Carolina is one of five SEC schools rated in the top 25 - LSU (5), Tennessee (6), Texas A&M (11), and Kentucky (15). The Gamecocks have two of those teams still ahead on the schedule - at Kentucky (Feb. 20) and at Tennessee (Mar. 2). No SEC team is outside the top 150.
Rating Against the Ranked
Under head coach Dawn Staley, the Gamecocks are 14-36 all-time against nationally ranked opponents, including a 3-2 mark this season. Staley's .280 winning percentage against the nation's elite teams is the best for a Gamecock head coach over at least three seasons since Pam Parsons went 14-18 (.438) against ranked teams during her 1978-82 tenure.
The transformation of the game of sophomore guard Tiffany Mitchell - who has both honed and diversified her skills from last season - has captured national attention as she has earned spots on the Naismith Trophy Midseason 30 and the Wade Trophy and Dawn Staley Award Watch Lists. The Charlotte, N.C., native is one of two players in the SEC to rank among the conference's top 15 in points (9th, 15.3 ppg), assists (10th, 3.6 apg) and steals (4th, 2.2 spg). Ole Miss senior Valencia McFarland is the other playing showing up in the top 15 of each category. In five games against ranked opponents this season, Mitchell has scored 17.4 points per game (two more than her season average) and averages 6.8 rebounds (1.5 more than her season average).
As ESPN's Michelle Smith noted in her rating of the "10 biggest clutch players in college women's basketball," Mitchell has also proven to deliver late in tight-game situations. She scored five points in the final 20 seconds of regulation at Texas A&M (Jan. 16) to send the game into overtime, and she netted four points in 18 seconds with the Gamecocks tied at Vanderbilt (Jan. 26) with under a minute left to play to help deliver the win. Despite missing all but 2:25 of the first half due to foul trouble and struggling to find rhythm in the second at Mississippi State, Mitchell still delivered, hitting a pair of free throws to make it an eight-point lead with 18 seconds to play. In South Carolina's eight games decided by fewer than 10 points, Mitchell averages 5.1 points in the last five minutes, shooting 61.1 percent (11-of-18) from the field, including 80.0 percent (4-of-5) from 3-point range, and 78.9 percent (15-of-19) from the free throw line.
Rising to the Challenge
Junior forward Aleighsa Welch has expanded her game this season, while making room of the expanded roles of her younger teammates. As one of three team captains, Welch has shown leadership and maturity in welcoming teammates into the limelight with her, which is not to say that she has shied away from it.
When the spotlight shines the brightest and the team needs her most, Welch has delivered. The Gamecocks have played five nationally ranked opponents so far this season and, in those games, Welch leads the team in scoring and rebounding. She averages just shy of a double-double in those five games with 17.6 points - nearly four points higher than her season average - and 9.6 rebounds - two more than her season average.
Overall this season, Welch leads the SEC (8th in the nation) in field goal percentage (.588) and is 15th in the league in scoring (13.9), 10th in rebounding (7.6), 10th in blocks (1.2) and third in offensive boards (3.3).