Opponent: No. 10/9 Tennessee (23-5, 12-3 SEC) Date: Sunday, March 2, 2014, 2:30 p.m. Site: Columbia, S.C. / Colonial Life Arena (18,000) TV: ESPNU (Melissa Lee, play-by-play; Maria Taylor, analyst) Radio: 1320 AM The Fan (Brad Muller); GamecocksOnline.com Live Video:ESPN3 Live Stats:GamecocksOnline.com Series History: UT leads 44-2
South Carolina Notables
South Carolina won its first SEC regular-season championship this season, claiming the title outright with Thursday's win over Georgia. It is the program's sixth regular-season conference title, but the first in the SEC.
Playing in front of 10,000+ fans each of their last two games, the Gamecocks closed out their first undefeated home season in Colonial Life Arena history with a facility-record 16 wins - one shy of the overall school record (2001-02). It is the program's second time winning every home game in a season (1978-79, 11-0 at Carolina Coliseum/Sol Blatt P.E. Center).
South Carolina leads the SEC and is fifth in the nation with a .485 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 NCAA require a minimum of five made field goals per game to qualify for the rankings. So, while Aleighsa Welch leads the league and ranks 10th in the nation, at 58.6 percent, Tiffany Mitchell's 52.7 percent, which would rank second in the SEC, is one made basket shy of qualifying.
Working from the inside-out, the Gamecock offense presents significant challenges for opponents. While their three primary post players - Alaina Coates, Elem Ibiam and Aleighsa Welch - have accounted for 48.0 percent of the team's scoring, Tiffany Mitchell ranks among the SEC's top 10 in points, assists and steals.
A South Carolina Win Would...
Be the Gamecocks' second straight at Tennessee.
Give the Gamecocks a .938 winning percentage in conference play, the best in program history.
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, 16.2 ppg; 19th, 6.3 rpg; 11th, 3.5 apg; 8th, 1.8 spg) 1 Double-double needed by center Alaina Coates to tie the Gamecock freshman record for double-doubles in a season (9 by Kelsey Bone in 2008-09) 11 Shots blocked by the Gamecocks in each of the last two games (Florida, Georgia), giving them double-digit blocks in six games this season, including five in SEC action 13 Individual 20-point games this season by the Gamecocks - five by Alaina Coates, five by Tiffany Mitchell and three by Aleighsa Welch 13 Games this season in which South Carolina has scored at least 50.0 percent of its points in the paint, including four of at least 60.0 percent of scoring coming from the paint (Chas. Sthrn., 70.7%; at USC, 60.0%; UK, 61.8%; at Vandy, 75.4%) 25 Points scored by Tiffany Mitchell against Georgia (Feb. 27), the season high for any Gamecock this season 74 Blocks by junior center Elem Ibiam this season, resetting the school single-season record previously held by Lakesha Tolliver (60 in 2006-07) - her 113 career blocks rank seventh (record is 177 by Tolliver)
Tennessee Series Notes
The Lady Vols lead the series 44-2, but the Gamecocks won the last meeting in Knoxville - the program's first victory on Tennessee's home court. Three current Gamecocks were on that team, which upended then-No. 8/8 Tennessee 64-60 on Feb. 2, 2012, but only Tina Roy and Aleighsa Welch saw time in the win.
Closing the SEC season against each other this season, the Gamecocks and Lady Vols opened the league slate in 2013. Tennessee came to Columbia and posted a 73-53 win on Jan. 13 as they held South Carolina to just 29.0 percent shooting. The Lady Vols led by one at the half before shutting the Gamecocks down in the final 20 minutes.
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 (74.7 ppg, 52nd in nation) and more efficiently (.485 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 offense starts with getting the ball inside - three primary post players combine to score 48.0 percent of the team's points - and on ball movement creating the best shots as 58.8 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 54.1 points per game.
South Carolina is ranked in the top five of the Associated Press Poll on Feb. 10 for the first time since Jan. 10, 1982, when the Gamecocks came in at No. 4. The Gamecocks have now been ranked among the nation's top five 15 times in program history. South Carolina's highest ever rank in the AP Poll was No. 2, which it held for three weeks in Dec. 1981.
South Carolina has been involved in 15 games in which both teams are ranked in the Associated Press top 10 in its history. The Gamecocks are 7-8 in those outings after this season's 68-59 win over then-No. 9 Kentucky (South Carolina then ranked No. 10). The only other top-10 matchup in South Carolina's SEC-era came at Tennessee on Jan. 17, 2002, when South Carolina took its No. 8 ranking into Knoxville against the second-ranked Lady Vols. Prior to that game, the last top-10 matchup was back in the 1981-82 season with No. 1 Louisiana Tech besting No. 2 South Carolina 71-58 in Columbia. That season also saw the Gamecocks' last win in a top-10 battle with No. 2 South Carolina defeating No. 6 Rutgers on Jan. 6, 1982 in Columbia.
Overall, South Carolina has a 21-109 record against teams in the AP top 10 at the time of the game with 19 of those games coming in the Dawn Staley era. In the last three seasons, the Gamecocks are 3-4 against top-10 teams.
With comprehensive records beginning in the 1976-77 season (the third for women's basketball at South Carolina), the Gamecocks are 205-235 (.466) all-time in games played on the road, including a 36-30 mark (.545) in the Dawn Staley era. The Gamecocks had winning road records in each of the last two seasons, combining for a 16-8 record (.667) in 2011-12 and 2012-13.
Life in the League
South Carolina won the program's first SEC regular-season championship this season, giving the Gamecocks a total of six conference regular-season titles in program history. The other five championships came in 1986,1988, 1989, 1990 and 1991 as South Carolina closed out its eight-year tenure in the Metro Conference. Prior to this season, the Gamecocks' highest SEC finish was a tie for second in 2001-02. South Carolina has finished among the SEC's top four teams in each of the last three seasons.
South Carolina is 116-198 (.369) all-time in its 23rd season of SEC regular-season play. The Gamecocks are 73-85 (.462) in SEC games played in Columbia with a 43-113 record (.276) on the road. Under head coach Dawn Staley, the Gamecocks have a 52-41 (.559) SEC record, which includes a 2-12 slate in her first season at the helm. She has accounted for 44.8 percent of the program's 116 SEC regular-season victories.
More on March
In its 40th season of women's basketball, South Carolina is 62-54 (.534) all-time in the month of February, including a 9-9 record (.500) in the sixth season of the Dawn Staley era. After going 0-3 through Staley's first to March campaigns, the Gamecocks have finished each of the last three at or above .500, going 2-2 in 2010-11, 4-2 in 2011-12 and 3-2 in 2012-13
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 now 14 conference wins breaks the 1989-90 team's mark of 13 in the Metro Conference.
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).