WBB: Carolina opens up SEC play

The South Carolina women's basketball team will open up conference play Sunday afternoon, hosting Alabama at the Colonial Life Arena. Tip is set for 3:00 and can be heard on WISW 1320 AM.

Game Information
Sunday, January 1, 2012
Time: 3 p.m.
Location: Columbia, S.C.
Arena: Colonial Life Arena
Tickets: $7 adult, $4 youth (17 & under)
TV: None
Radio: WISW 1320 AM (Brad Muller and Marcy Girton)
Alabama Series: ALA leads 15-13; In Columbia: SC leads 8-5; In Tuscaloosa: ALA leads 8-5; At Neutral Site: ALA leads 2-0

They should be 13-0.

It hasn't always been pretty and hasn't always been very productive. But what it has done is produced 11 wins, which ties it with four other SEC teams for second most wins behind Vanderbilt's 12.

The South Carolina women's basketball team has turned in an 11-2 non-conference record and will now turn its attention to SEC play when it hosts Alabama Sunday afternoon at the Colonial Life Arena. The 11 wins are the most under head coach Dawn Staley and the most for the Gamecock program in quite some time.

South Carolina could easily be entering SEC play undefeated if not for two late game collapses. Carolina had nationally-ranked Penn State on the ropes, leading 50-42 with 5:47 left in the game. That would be the last points the Gamecocks scored, seeing Penn State come back for a 55-50 win. Carolina held a late lead over N.C. State in Raleigh, leading 53-49 with 1:49 left, but again would not score the remainder of the game as the Wolfpack rallied for a 55-53 win as La'Keisha Sutton could not get off a last second shot.

Carolina has won games by using a stingy defense that is second in the nation in scoring to get out to the fast start and will need to continue doing that in SEC play. Carolina is just 81-186 in SEC play entering its 21st season, and will be looking to win the conference opener for the first time since the 2002-03 team beat Mississippi State, 83-79. That team went on to a 9-5 conference record before falling in the second round of the NCAA Tournament.

Alabama leads the all-time series, 15-13, but Carolina has dominated recently, winning the last three against the Crimson Tide and seven of the last eight. Alabama is a different team this season under fourth-year head coach Wendell Hudson. The Crimson Tide is off to a 10-4 start this season, but has not played a challenging schedule. Alabama has a SOS of 233 of 342 teams according to RPIratings.com. The Gamecocks and Tide have several common opponents. Alabama also lost to N.C. State, but lost 79-57. Alabama beat Presbyterian, 65-47, while the Gamecocks crushed the Blue Hose, 52-24.

That tells you that South Carolina has the edge in Sunday's match-up, but this is the SEC. Nothing is automatic. The last two seasons the Gamecocks have been on the verge of making the NCAA Tournament, but faltered down the stretch. The 2009-10 squad was sitting pretty with a 6-5 conference record after a huge win at Georgia, and needed just to win three of its final five games to make the NCAA Tournament. Carolina would lose four of the final five and then lose in the first round of the SEC Tournament to miss postseason play altogether. Last season Carolina sat at 8-6 after a win over Auburn, needing to win just one of the final two to make the NCAA Tournament. Carolina would lose both games in overtime, but would make the WNIT, falling to UNC-Charlotte in the second round. By virtue of their strong start, a simple winning record in conference play will give Carolina a 20-win season and a virtual lock into the NCAA Tournament, but the Gamecocks have not finished with a winning record since that 2002-03 season.

This team is different. This team does not hope to win; they expect to win. And winning is just what they have done this season.

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