WBB: Top defenses battle in Baton Rouge

Thursday night's match-up between #24 South Carolina and LSU in Baton Rouge will be a match-up of two of the top three defenses in the nation. With both teams holding opponents to under 50 points per game, it could be a race to 50 to see who will improve to 3-0 in SEC play.

Game Information
Thursday, January 12, 2012
Time: 8 p.m. (ET)
Location: Baton Rouge, La.
Arena: Pete Maravich Assembly Center (13,215)
TV: None
Radio: WISW 1320 AM (Brad Muller and Marcy Girton); GamecocksOnline.com
LSU Series: LSU leads 21-4; In Baton Rouge: LSU leads 11-1; In Columbia: LSU leads 10-2; At Neutral Site: SC leads 1-0

They are not flashy, but they are effective.

That is the best way to sum up the South Carolina and LSU women's basketball programs. Neither team has the offensive power that garners praise from the national media, but they win games. In what could be named the "Rodney Dangerfield" match-up, the Gamecocks and Tigers are just looking for some respect.

14-2 South Carolina is ranked for the first time in eight seasons after wins over Vanderbilt and Florida last week and 12-3 LSU is just on the outside of the top 25. Both teams join #9 Kentucky and #6 Tennessee as the only four undefeated teams in SEC play. The Tigers are winners in nine straight games while the Gamecocks bring in an eight-game winning streak. The similarities do not end there.

Both teams bring in a suffocating defense and an offense that has done just enough to get by. Carolina is second in the nation in scoring defense, allowing just 45 points per game and the Tigers are right behind in third place, allowing just under 47 points per game. The Tigers have the slight edge in scoring offensively with just under 67 points per game and Carolina averages just under 63.

"We're both pretty good defensively," Carolina head coach Dawn Staley said. "We both hold our opponents to 45 points. It's going to be a race to 50. Whatever defense holds up is going to win the game. For us we're hoping that the lid is off a little bit and we have our offense catch up to our defense."

For Staley it has been quite a while to get her team to buy in to her defensive philosophy of harassing the opponent for 40 minutes. Ieasia Walker leads the team with 39 steals, with Ashley Bruner stealing the ball 26 times and La'Keisha Sutton 25. Aleighsa Welch and Charenee Stephens lead a front court that has allowed just 171 offensive rebounds this season.

"It's taken about three years," Staley said. "I think because we've had so much success with it this year, it's contagious. They won't to get better at it. They feel good going into basketball games knowing that we're able to wreak some havoc on the defensive end. I think it's pretty special because they've been doing a tremendous job with it."

The Lady Tigers present quite a challenge for the Gamecock defense in that they have a blend of inside and outside threats. Senior forward LaSondra Barrett leads the Tigers with 12 points per game, and guard Adrienne Webb is right behind Barrett with nine points per game.

"They have a team full of weapons," Staley said. "Who's done it year in and year out is LaSondra Barrett, then they have Webb and an inside/outside threat that we have to pay attention to, and then they have some other players that are playing well this year. It's an LSU team that is very skilled and very big. We just have to use our speed against the height disadvantage."

Often when a team enters the top 25 no one knows how that team will react. Twitter and other social networks were filled with talks of Carolina entering the polls Monday afternoon, but now it's time for the Gamecocks to forget all of that and try to pick up just their second win in 13 trips to Baton Rouge and continue to build on the early season success.

"I don't think there's any extra intensity because of the ranking," Staley said. "I think every time we get closer to playing another game in this conference, the intensity level rises. For us it's a wonderful thing. I don't want to downplay it because we've been on the other side of it. It's a great honor to be in the top 25, but we have to do the things that got us into the top 25 and continue to do those things."

With the four undefeated teams going head-to-head Thursday night, there will only be two teams that enter the weekend 4-0 in conference play. Should South Carolina and Kentucky be fortunate enough to win their respective games, it would set up a huge match-up Sunday afternoon at the Colonial Life Arena.

For now, the focus is on LSU.

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