WNIT: Gamecocks Host App State Wednesday

South Carolina will be making their first postseason appearance in the Dawn Staley era Wednesday when they host Appalachian State in the first round of the WNIT. The winner will advance to the second round to face the Charlotte-Liberty winner Saturday, Sunday, or Monday.

For the first time since Dawn Staley was hired three years ago, the South Carolina women's basketball team is finally making a postseason appearance. A year after a late-season collapse cost the Gamecocks a postseason appearance, Carolina will host Appalachian State in the first round of the WNIT Wednesday night at the Colonial Life Arena. The Gamecocks (17-14) earned the automatic bid from the SEC by finishing highest in the conference among teams that did not make the NCAA Tournament.

The Mountaineers (25-6) won the Southern Conference regular season championship with a 17-3 conference record, but lost in the conference championship game to Samford after beating them in both regular season match-ups. Due to wining the regular season championship, Appalachian State also earned an automatic bid.

Like Carolina, the Mountaineers are not a very tall team, though they aren't nearly as guard-heavy as the Gamecocks are. Appalachian State only has five players over 6-0, but do have two players that are taller than anyone on the South Carolina roster. Ashlen Dewart - the lone South Carolina native on the Mountaineer roster - is a 6-3 forward that played high school ball at Dorman. Haley Hackett is the other Mountaineer player that is taller than any Gamecock at 6-2, but does not play often.

The Mountaineers are led offensively by a trio of Dewart, Sam Ramirez, and Anna Freeman. Their offensive attack is similar to the inside-outside Gamecock duo of Kelsey Bone and Valerie Nainima last season. Dewart leads the team in scoring with nearly 16 points and six rebounds in 27 minutes per game. Ramirez - a senior guard - is right behind Dewart with nearly 16 points per game as well, but also leads the team with 130 assists. Freeman - a 6-0 sophomore forward - averages 14 points per game. She is also second on the team in assists with 124 and leads the team with 96 steals.

Carolina is one of five SEC schools in the WNIT, meaning nine of the twelve members of the conference will make the postseason. Only the two Mississippi schools failed to make either tournament due to finishing wih records below .500

The winner of Carolina-Appalachian State game will meet the winner of the Charlotte-Liberty game. Should the Gamecocks defeat the Mountaineers, they would have to hope for a Saturday or Sunday second-round game. There is a Prince concert scheduled Monday at the Colonial Life Arena, meaning the Gamecocks would have to travel if the game is scheduled for Monday.

There are several intriguing potential match-ups for the Gamecocks over the course of the tournament. Should the Gamecocks win and face Liberty in the second round, they would meet up with former Gamecock commitment Kylee Beecher, a 6-4 forward for the Flames. A potential third round match-up could be Florida, who stole a win away from the Gamecocks earlier this season at the Colonial Life Arena. A potential Quarterfinal opponent would be Virginia, Dawn Staley's alma mater and a program that will likely contact Staley for an interview to be the next Cavaliers coach.

Other teams on Carolina's side of the bracket include Yale, Boston College, St. Joseph's, VCU, Old Dominion, Loyola-Maryland, Virginia, Morgan St, Charlotte, Liberty, Appalachian State, Florida, Marlyand-Baltimore County, Florida Gulf Coast, and Drexel.

The third round is scheduled for March 23-25, the fourth round on March 26-28, Quarterfinals March 26-28, Semifinals March 30-31, with the championship scheduled for 3:00 on April 2. All other times are yet to be determined.

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