Date: Thursday, March 1, 2012 Time: 10 p.m. (ET) Location: Nashville, Tenn. Arena: Bridgestone Arena (17,576) TV: SportsSouth (Dave Baker and Van Chancellor) Radio: WISW 1320 AM (Brad Muller and Marcy Girton); GamecocksOnline.com Alabama Series: Tied 15-15; At Neutral Site: ALA leads 2-0; In Columbia: SC leads 9-5; In Tuscaloosa: ALA leads 8-6
South Carolina Notables
In tying the school record for SEC wins in a season, South Carolina finished tied for fourth in the league - its best spot in the league standings since the 2001-02 team finished tied for second behind 10 wins.
Freshman Aleighsa Welch is probable for the SEC Tournament. The forward suffered a knee sprain at Alabama (Feb. 19) and has been working her way back onto the court for the last 10 days. She has been participated in selected portions of practice this week and is expected to be cleared for full participation Wednesday.
South Carolina's defense has been ranked among the nation's top four all season. The Gamecocks have held an opponent to 55 or fewer points in 21 games, including seven SEC outings. Some of the highest scoring offenses in the nation have been thwarted by South Carolina's defensive game plans. No Gamecock opponent has reached 70 points this season and teams have scored 48 or fewer points 12 times, including five league opponents.
After seeing the guards shine for most of this month, forwards Charenee Stephens and Ashley Bruner have provided a boost to the Gamecock effort the last two games. The duo has accounted for 49.5 percent of the team's 103 points in the last two games with Bruner netting 14.0 ppg and Stephens 9.0 ppg. Their work on the boards was critical in keeping Kentucky within reach and topping Arkansas. Bruner snatched 9.5 rebounds per game with Stephens at 8.0 over the two outings. Bruner now ranks among the league's top 20 with 5.3 rpg on the season, while Stephens is 17th with 5.6 boards per conference outing.
A South Carolina Win Would...
Be the Gamecocks' second straight in the first round of the SEC Tournament after not winning a game at the event since 2007.
Keep head coach Dawn Staley undefeated against Alabama in her career, including a 3-0 mark this season.
Set up a second-round SEC Tournament matchup with Georgia for the second-straight year.
By the Numbers
1 Starts needed by La'Keisha Sutton this season to become just the 11th Gamecock to start 100 games in her career
2 Rebounds needed by senior Charenee Stephens most into the top 20 in career boards in South Carolina history, matching Monica Williams (1984-88) at 577
3 Wins this season that senior guard La'Keisha Sutton has sealed at the free throw line - at Florida (Jan. 8), at Tennessee (Feb. 2) and Florida (Feb. 12)
4 Wins in the Gamecocks' seven SEC games decided by five or fewer points - at Florida (Jan. 8), at Vanderbilt (Jan. 22), at Tennessee (Feb. 2) and Florida (Feb. 12)
6.9 Margin of defeat in the Gamecocks' eight losses this season, including five games decided by five or fewer points, compared to their 17.3-point margin of victory
7 3-pointers by senior guard Markeshia Grant at Tennessee (Feb. 2), which is tied for the most by an SEC player this season
8 Games this season that junior guard Ieasia Walker has handed out five or more assists, during which the Gamecocks are 6-2
15 Games in which South Carolina has allowed under 20.0 percent shooting from 3-point range, including five games of not allowing a single made 3-pointer
18 Rank of senior guard La'Keisha Sutton on the Gamecocks' career points list (1,230), trailing 17th-place Lisa Diaz (1987-90) by 19 points
20 Games this season in which the Gamecock defense held its opponent to 55 or fewer points, during which South Carolina is 16-4
23 Points scored by the Gamecock frontcourt of the team's total of 50 at #13/10 Kentucky - the highest percentage of scoring by post players (.460) since the forwards netted 53.8 percent of the team's 65 points against Vanderbilt (Jan. 5)
51 Points out of the team's 103 in the last two games scored by the Gamecocks' six post players
65 Games won by this year's senior class (assumes four-year careers), making it the most since the 2005 class captured 66.
South Carolina has built its best season in nearly a decade behind a steady dose of stifling defense, ranked fourth in the nation, and a diversified offense. The Gamecocks have allowed more than 55 points just nine times this season and have held four nationally ranked opponents to that mark or lower. Seven different players have led the team in scoring, and eight have scored in double figures at least once. South Carolina's 14-2 start earned the program's first national rank since the end of the 2002-03 season, and the Gamecocks have been ranked a total of four weeks this season. The Gamecocks have the most overall wins since 2002-03 and the most SEC wins since the 2001-02 team also had 10. Signature league wins include the program's first sweeps of Vanderbilt and Florida and its first win over Tennessee in Knoxville.
Alabama Series Notes
The series is tied 15-15 after the Gamecocks extended their win streak over the Crimson Tide to five games with a pair of victories this season. In fact, South Carolina has won 12 of the last 15 meetings.
The Gamecocks opened their SEC season with a 68-42 win over the Crimson Tide (Jan. 1), the largest margin of victory for Staley in an SEC outing since taking over the Gamecock program for the 2008-09 season. South Carolina built an early lead in the return game of the series (Feb. 19) and survived 18 second-half turnovers by holding Alabama to just 22.9 percent shooting in period for a 69-55 victory.
Senior Markeshia Grant and junior Ieasia Walker each scored 11.0 points per game against the Crimson tide this season and average 12.0 points in their careers against Alabama. Freshman Aleighsa Welch was a dominant force on the glass in the Gamecocks' two wins, averaging 7.5 rebounds, despite playing limited minutes due to injury in the second matchup.
South Carolina has taken a lead into the locker room at half time 23 times in 29 games this season, and the Gamecocks are 20-3 in those outings. The lone losses were at LSU (Jan. 12), vs. Kentucky (Jan. 15) and vs. Georgia (Feb. 16). In head coach Dawn Staley's fourth season at the helm, South Carolina is 54-13 after leading at halftime and 2-4 when tied at the game's midway point.
The Gamecocks are 57-48 (.543) all-time in the month of March, including a 16-6 (.727) record at home. With most March games coming in postseason action, South Carolina is 28-30 (.483) in neutral site games in the third month of the year. Under head coach Dawn Staley, South Carolina is 2-5 in March. The Gamecocks went 0-2 in Staley's first year at the helm (2008-09), were 0-1 in 2009-10 and finished 2-2 last season.
South Carolina is 84-75 all-time in games played at a neutral site. Under head coach Dawn Staley, the Gamecocks are 6-8 at neutral sites.
Reading the Rankings
South Carolina appeared in the national polls this season for the first time since closing out the 2002-03 season ranked 16th. This season, the Gamecocks have appeared in one or both of the national polls four times (Jan. 9, Feb. 6, Feb. 13, Feb. 27), including this week. In its history, South Carolina has gone 166-72 in games in which it is nationally ranked, including a 2-4 mark this season.
Gamecock head coach Dawn Staley has led a nationally ranked team before as her Temple squads were in the rankings for a total of 26 weeks during her eight seasons at the helm. She is one of 37 coaches who have coached multiple teams in the national rankings, only 21 of which are currently still coaching at the NCAA Division I level.
Rating vs. the Ranked
South Carolina is 54-192 against nationally ranked teams in its 38th season of women's basketball. The Gamecocks have collected 29 of those 54 wins in Columbia, including 11 in Colonial Life Arena.
In its basketball history, South Carolina's highest-ranked victim was a No. 3-ranked foe, and there are two of those victories, both over Auburn. The first came by a 83-76 score at home on Dec. 29, 1990. The second was a 59-47 decision over the Tigers on Feb. 27, 1993 in the final home game of the season. In the Dawn Staley era, the highest ranked team the Gamecocks have defeated was at then-No. 8 Tennessee on Feb. 9, 2012, by a score of 64-60.
In the last three seasons South Carolina has defeated a nationally ranked team nine times in 28 outings, including this year's 4-4 record.
Success at 60
With its reliance on defense, South Carolina has not needed to generate huge offensive games this season, finding the most success when hovering right around its season average of 60.6 points. The Gamecocks are a perfect 17-0 this season when scoring at least 60 points, including a 3-0 mark when reaching the 70-point plateau.