WBB Preview: Gamecocks Face Stiff Challenge

South Carolina heads to Knoxville Thursday to take on #4 Tennessee. It is the second meeting between the two teams. Shekinna Stricklen scored 18 points and pulled down 16 rebounds in Tennessee's 71-56 win over the Gamecocks last month. South Carolina has already avenged early conference losses to Georgia and Kentucky and will look to make the Vols the third.

Date: Thursday, February 17, 2011
Time: 7 p.m.
Location: Knoxville, Tenn.
Arena: Thompson-Boling Arena
Tennessee Series: UT leads 41-1; In Knoxville: UT leads 19-0; In Columbia: UT leads 18-1; At Neutral Site: UT leads 4-0
TV: CSS (Matt Stewart and Joe Ciampi) - Time Warner Cable in South Carolina will air on digital cable channel 506
Radio: WISW 1320 AM (Brad Muller and Marcy Girton);

The South Carolina women's basketball team is looking to do something only two teams have done this season and something they've only done once in school history - beat the Tennessee Volunteers. As if beating the #4 Vols isn't hard enough, the Gamecocks must do it inside Thompson-Boling Arena, where Tennessee is 13-1 this season and 19-0 all-time against Carolina.

"Anytime you play Tennessee you don't need a motivational factor," coach Dawn Staley said. "It is Tennessee and it is a team you always want to beat. I think our players have really been focusing on this game and - for the most part - we've avenged losses to teams that we've played twice."

So far the Gamecocks have played two conference opponents twice - Georgia and Kentucky. In both meetings the Gamecocks avenged early-season losses. The difference this time is that this match-up is on the road.

Tennessee won the first meeting, 71-56, in Columbia last month. The Gamecocks jumped out to an early 11-4 lead and went toe-to-toe with Tennessee for most of the first half before the Vols scored the last seven points of the half to take a 33-26 lead into the locker room. Despite Tennessee's huge size advantage Carolina battled back in the second half, pulling to within five points with five minutes left in the game but could not get any closer as Tennessee pulled away.

Since that loss South Carolina has won five of six, including two ranked teams. That has led to a 7-5 conference mark and has firmly placed the Gamecocks on the bubble for the NCAA Tournament. In the most recent NCAA projections, ESPN's Charlie Creme has Carolina as the first team out of the tournament. An eighth conference win over Tennessee would be the first since winning nine conference games in the 2002-03 season.

"I think we're progressing," Staley said. "I think our non-conference schedule really put us in a position to win these type of (close) games, so hopefully we can have some success down there in Tennessee."

Carolina has used a stifling defense and an offense that continues to progress over the course of its winning streak. None of the opponents have reached their season average (Florida is the only SEC opponent to surpass its season average, by 0.1 point), and has equaled or surpassed its season average in all five wins.

"We're playing with a lot of confidence," Staley said. "Our players are playing more together (and) know where each other are on the court and they're finding one another. From a defensive standpoint we're able to lock people down and not give them their averages and we're lucky to put some points on the scoreboard at the same time."

Though winning at Arkansas and Mississippi State is no easy feat, it's not Thompson-Boling Arena and it's not the Tennessee Lady Volunteers. The near-25,000 seat arena is always full for the Lady Vols. The Gamecocks will easily face a hostile crowd of 18,000+ fans, the largest crowd the team will see all year. That is something Staley hopes to one day see at the Colonial Life Arena.

"It is something that we strive for here at South Carolina - to build that tradition in which people come out to see you play at home, people will come out on the road to see you compete," Staley said. "It's a standard that they set that all teams throughout the country strive for."

Thursday's Match-ups

Kentucky @ Georgia 7:00
South Carolina @ Tennessee 7:00
Alabama @ Auburn 7:00
Vanderbilt @ Mississippi State 8:00
Arkansa @ Ole Miss 8:00
Idle: Florida, LSU

SEC Standings

Tennessee - 12-0
Georgia - 9-3
Kentucky - 8-4
Vanderbilt - 8-4
South Carolina - 7-5
Auburn - 7-5
LSU - 7-6
Arkansas - 4-8
Florida - 4-9
Mississippi - 3-9
Alabama - 2-10
Mississippi State - 2-10

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