Opponent: Florida (17-9, 7-6 SEC) Date: Sunday, February 23, 2014, 1 p.m. Site: Columbia, S.C. Arena:Colonial Life Arena (18,000) Tickets: $7 adult, $4 youth (17 and under) TV: SportSouth (Dave Baker, Stephanie Ready) Radio: 1320 AM The Fan (Brad Muller); GamecocksOnline.com Live Video:ESPN3 Live Stats:GamecocksOnline.com Series History: UF leads 20-12
South Carolina Notables
Today, South Carolina is recognizing the many women in the community who have battled or are battling breast cancer, including assistant coach Nikki McCray. The Gamecocks will wear special pink shooting shirts and accessories during the game. Various video messages and halftime activities will also honor these amazing women.
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.
South Carolina leads the SEC and is fourth in the nation with a .488 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 per game 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 52.3 percent, which would rank third in the SEC, is five made baskets shy of qualifying.
Junior forward Aleighsa Welch scored her 1,000th career point in the first four minutes at Kentucky (Feb. 20), becoming the 29th Gamecock to reach the plateau. She is one of just 11 in the group to have at least 650 rebounds as well.
A South Carolina Win Would...
Be the Gamecocks' 15th home win this season, tying the Colonial Life Arena record originally set in 2006-07. The school record for home wins in a season is 16 set in 1979-80 when the Gamecocks played in Carolina Coliseum.
By the Numbers
1 Player who ranks among the SEC's top 20 in scoring and rebounding and its top 15 in assists and steals - Tiffany Mitchell (10th, 15.2 ppg; 20th, 6.2 rpg; 9th, 3.7 apg; 8th, 1.8 spg) 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 Individual 20-point games this season by the Gamecocks - five by Alaina Coates, three each by Tiffany Mitchell and Aleighsa Welch 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 13 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 29 Gamecocks in the 1,000-point club after newest member Aleighsa Welch joined in the first four minutes of the win at Kentucky (Feb. 20)
Florida Series Notes
The Gators lead the series 20-12 but the Gamecocks have won the last four games - their longest streak against Florida in the 34-year history of the series. In fact, with all four games coming in the last two seasons of home-and-home series, no South Carolina player has lost to Florida in her career - proof of the Gamecocks' youth this season despite their veteran play. Only one of the Gamecocks' four wins came by double digits, though, and the average margin of victory was 7.0 points.
Junior forward Aleighsa Welch has played a key role in all of the last four wins over the Gators, including two last season during which she averaged 11.0 points and 11.0 rebounds.
Last season, then-No. 14/13 South Carolina closed out its regular-season schedule with a 67-56 win over Florida on March 3 at Colonial Life Arena. The game was tied at the half before the Gamecocks' inside game of Welch and Ashley Bruner took over, combining for 24 points and eight rebound in the final 20 minutes.
In the first meeting in the 2012-13 season, then-No. 19/18 South Carolina escaped Gainesville with a 52-44 win on Jan. 20. The Gamecocks dominated the first half and took a seven-point lead into the locker room, but the Gators battled back in the second half. South Carolina won it at the free throw line, led by then-freshman Khadijah Sessions who hit three in the final 30 seconds.
Florida's last win in the series was a 65-63 victory on Jan. 9, 2011, at Colonial Life Arena as the Gators converted a three-point play with 16 seconds remaining to win their fifth straight over the Gamecocks.
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 (74.9 ppg, 50th in nation) and more efficiently (.488 FG %age - 1st in SEC, 4th 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 47.9 percent of the team's points - and on ball movement creating the best shots as 59.3 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 54.0 points per game.
Home Sweet Home
With comprehensive records beginning in the 1976-77 season (the third for women's basketball at South Carolina), the Gamecocks are 376-155 (.708) all-time in games played at home, including a 131-58 mark (.693) in Colonial Life Arena. In the sixth season with head coach Dawn Staley at the helm, South Carolina is 66-25 (.725) at home, including one game at Carolina Coliseum in the 2012-13 season. The Gamecocks have won 52 of their last 63 games played in Colonial Life Arena, including 16 straight.
South Carolina's success this season ranks among the best in the program's history. With their win at No. 15/15 Kentucky (Feb. 20), the Gamecocks set the program record for SEC wins in a season (12) while also topping the previous regular-season wins record (24). The 2012-13 team previously held both records with 11 SEC wins and 23 victories prior to postseason play. The 1978-79 team also won 23 games before opening SCAIAW State Championship play en route to the NWIT title. South Carolina's record for conference victories is 13 set by the 1989-90 team that went 13-1 in the Metro Conference.
The Gamecocks are looking to improve on their best ever SEC finish, which was a tie for second in 2001-02. South Carolina has five Metro Conference regular-season titles.
Rising to the Challenge
South Carolina has played six games against nationally ranked opponents this season, and two Gamecocks have lifted their games each time. Junior forward Aleighsa Welch leads the offense in South Carolina's 4-2 record against ranked foes, averaging 18.2 points - four more than her season average - to go with her 9.7 rebounds per contest, which is two higher than her season average. Sophomore Tiffany Mitchell is also contributing beyond her season numbers against the nation's best teams, scoring 16.5 points per game (+1.3) and grabbing 6.8 rebounds per contest (+1.4).
Join the Club
Junior forward Aleighsa Welch became the 29th member of the Gamecocks' 1,000-point club this season, crossing the threshold as part of her 21-point performance at No. 15/15 Kentucky (Feb. 20). She is just the 15th to reach the milestone prior in fewer than four seasons. Welch's 654 career rebounds puts her in even rarer company. Only 11 1,000-point scorers finished their careers with more rebounds than Welch, and just six of those hit the mark prior to their fourth season of play. That elite company Welch now keeps includes Gamecock legends Sheila Foster (1979-82), Sharon Gilmore (1983-86), Annie Lester (1997-2000), Katrina Anderson (1978-79), Denise Nanney (1975-77) and Jean Walling (1978-80). Welch is just the second Gamecock to reach her marks in the SEC era, joining Lester in that distinction.