Date: Thursday, February 10, 2011
Time: 7 p.m.
Location: Columbia, S.C.
Arena: Colonial Life Arena
Kentucky Series: UK leads 28-17; In Columbia: SC leads 12-8; In Lexington: UK leads 17-5; At Neutral Site: UK leads 3-0
Radio: WISW 1320 AM (Brad Muller and Marcy Girton)
The phrase is used quite often - this is a big game. That phrase is an understatement for the South Carolina women's basketball team when they host #15 Kentucky Thursday night in the Colonial Life Arena. Coming off a huge 64-62 overtime win at Arkansas Sunday, South Carolina is looking to knock off another NCAA Tournament-worthy team in the Wildcats. The Gamecocks still sit in seventh place in the SEC at 5-5, but a win would either push them past LSU for sixth or tie with Auburn for sixth. LSU is currently in sixth with a 6-5 record while Auburn is in fifth with a 6-4 record. The two Tigers will meet up in Baton Rouge tonight. The Gamecocks also find themselves just two games out of third, which is shared by Kentucky and Vanderbilt. Carolina will face all six teams that is currently ahead of them in the standings along with Mississippi State.
Carolina has won three of its last four games to put themselves in position to make a push for the NCAA Tournament. Coach Dawn Staley credits that to her team not putting themselves in a huge hole early on.
"We're starting games better," Staley said. "From an offensive standpoint we're not getting ourselves down to big deficits, and our team is just gelling."
Staley's team seems to be gelling at just the right time. Following a 66-48 loss to Kentucky in Lexington last month, the Gamecocks had lost three of its first four SEC games and very easily could have been 0-4 in conference play. Carolina was only one game above .500 and 1-3 in the SEC. The NCAA Tournament appeared to be well out of reach and even the WNIT looked to be highly unlikely. After winning four of the next six and a strength of schedule that currently ranks nineteenth, Carolina is two wins away from almost locking a WNIT berth and the NCAA Tournament is not as far-fetched as it appeared.
"I think the non-conference schedule that we played, the losses that we've taken, the competitive games that we've played I think it just builds up to a moment like this game against Kentucky where we get a chance to build our resume for the NCAA Committee," Staley said. "For the most part when you really think about what we're doing we're progressing. It's a team in which I know going into a basketball game is going to give their best effort."
If Carolina hopes to knock of the 'Cats and continue to make a late-season push for the NCAA's, it must slow down an offense that is second in the league in scoring, averaging 74 points a game. Carolina will have to find a way to make up 15 points in scoring averages as the Gamecocks average just 59 points.
The biggest way to stop the Wildcats is to take care of the ball and limit points off of turnovers. Kentucky leads the league in steals, averaging nearly 12 per game and also leads the league with a turnover margin of +8.
"Their ability to turn you over," Staley said of Kentucky's biggest strength. "They force a lot of turnovers and they have to because that is a part of their gameplan. They bank on you turning the ball over and them scoring on it. We're going to turn the ball over tomorrow night. We've just got to defend those turnovers. If we're able to defend our turnovers I believe it increases our chance of winning."
A win Thursday would be a huge boost to the Gamecocks resume. It would be the second win over a ranked opponent and the fourth win over a potential NCAA Tournament team. It would also push the Gamecocks past the .500 mark and within a game for at least fourth in the SEC. It is a big game in every sense of the word.
Tennessee - 10-0
Georgia - 8-2
Kentucky - 7-3
Vanderbilt - 7-3
Auburn - 6-4
LSU - 6-5
South Carolina - 5-5
Arkansas - 4-7
Florida - 4-7
Mississippi - 3-7
Mississippi State - 1-9
Alabama - 1-10
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