Date: Sunday, February 13, 2011
Time: 2 p.m. (ET)
Location: Starkville, Miss.
Arena: Humphrey Coliseum (10,500)
Mississippi State Series: MS leads 16-9; In Starkville: MS leads 9-2; In Columbia: SC leads 7-5; At Neutral Site: MS leads 2-0
TV: SEC Network (Cara Capuano and Robin Muller)
Radio: WISW 1320 AM (Brad Muller and Marcy Girton); GamecocksOnline.com
Flash back to February 11th, 2010. The South Carolina women's basketball team had just won two road games at Auburn and at #14 Georgia. They were 13-11 and 6-5 in the SEC and returned home for a two game homestand. The first opponent was the Mississippi State Bulldogs.
The Bulldogs were led by Alexis Rack, Chanel Mokango, and Tysheka Grimes offensively. The Bulldogs appeared to be in control with four minutes left after a 17-4 run to lead by seven as Rack and Mokanga would end with 15 points apiece and Grimes finished with 10.
Three-pointers by Valerie Nainima and Ieasisa Walker and a Nainima layup sandwiched around two State baskets cut the lead to three as the Gamecocks turned up the pressure defensively. A turnover with 40 seconds left gave the Gamecocks a chance to inch closer. Nainima drove to the left, pulled up at the free throw line and drained a shot. She was fouled on the play and would step to the line for a chance to tie it with 25 seconds left. Nainima - who has a slow free throw delivery - was a 76% free throw shooter, best on the team for those who had at least 20 attempts. Nainima would never get a chance to tie it as Charenee Stephens fell over into the lane for a lane violation. State would go on to win 55-53, setting off a four game losing streak that killed the Gamecocks' hopes of postseason play.
Just over a year later the Gamecocks find themselves in the same position. Carolina is 14-10, 6-5 in the SEC facing Mississippi State. This season it's in Starkville. This season there's no Rack, Mokango, or Grimes for the Bulldogs. Mississippi State is just 10-13 this season, 2-9 in SEC play. However, State has won its last two games - both on the road - against Ole Miss and Auburn.
Still, this is one the Gamecocks have to win.
"I don't want to get ahead of ourselves, because if you look back on last year, we were 6-5," coach Dawn Staley said following Thursday's 66-61 upset of #15 Kentucky. "For us, we're just going to focus on Mississippi State at this point."
The only difference in this year's record is one non-conference win. South Carolina is 14-10, 6-5 in the SEC. Carolina likely needs nine wins to have a legitimate shot at an NCAA Tournament berth, meaning the Gamecocks have to win three of its final five games. With road games at #5 Tennessee and LSU looming, Carolina can't afford to lose this one.
Should South Carolina beat Mississippi State, Kentucky beating LSU at home, and Arkansas beating Auburn at home, the Gamecocks would move into sole possession of fifth place in the conference. Carolina moved up to 63 in the latest RPI following the win over the Wildcats and still boast the nineteenth toughest schedule in the country.
Tennessee - 11-0
Georgia - 8-3
Vanderbilt - 8-3
Kentucky - 7-4
LSU - 7-5
South Carolina - 6-5
Auburn - 6-5
Arkansas - 4-7
Florida - 4-8
Mississippi - 3-8
Mississippi State - 2-9
Alabama - 1-10
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