WBB: Carolina to face Eastern Michigan

South Carolina will make its ninth appearance in the NCAA Tournament Saturday morning when they face Eastern Michigan in West Lafayette, Indiana on the campus of Purdue University. It is the first appearance for the Gamecocks under Dawn Staley.

Game Information
Saturday, March 17, 2012
Time: 11 a.m.
Location: West Lafayette, Ind.
Arena: Mackey Arena (14,240)
TV: ESPN2 (Stephen Bardo and Brenda VanLengen); ESPN3
Radio: 107.5 The Game and WISW 1320 AM (Brad Muller)
Live State: GamecocksOnline.com
Eastern Michigan Series: First Meeting

The celebration is over.

For one night the South Carolina women's basketball team was able to celebrate something that had not been done since the 2002-03 season. On Saturday morning the Gamecocks will take on Eastern Michigan in the opening round of the 2012 NCAA Tournament. The game will tip off shortly after 11 a.m. and will air on ESPN2.

"Our mindset is that we're focused on Eastern Michigan and just trying to ensure that we bring our ‘A-game,'" South Carolina head coach Dawn Staley said. "I think you can live and die when you bring your very best."

The Gamecocks have brought their best most of the season, bringing in a 23-9 record that earned the fifth seed in the Fresno Regional. The Gamecocks and Eagles have never met on the basketball court, but that has no bearing on what Carolina will do on Saturday.

"It's been really intense; I think we're all pretty intense," Staley said of this week's practices. "We don't want to be a team that is one and done. We're really focusing on playing our style of basketball and play the style of basketball we've been playing all year."

The Gamecocks have been led all year by its three-headed monster at the guard positions. Ieasia Walker, La'Keisha Sutton and Markeshia Grant have been wreaking havoc all season on the opposition. The trio has 125 steals has scored 924 points. The senior duo of Sutton and Grant average 10.5 and 10.6 points, respectively, the only two to average more than 10 points a game.

"Markeshia and ‘Keisha play off each other very well," Staley said. "Both are able to shoot the three ball. ‘Keisha, more than Markeshia, is able to drive and find other people. A lot of times Markeshia is a recipient of ‘Keisha's penetration. They've been pretty solid. That's why we've been able to be as successful as we have been this season."

While the hoopla surrounding the team and the NCAA Tournament is a new experience for all of them, Staley believes that the team has not let it get to their heads and they will be focused when the game begins.

"This team, ever since I've gotten here really, has had short memories," Staley said. "It's not like they hold on to things; winning or losing; good plays or bad plays. I want our kids to enjoy the journey. That's what makes it so special, but at the same time being able to focus in on the things that you've been doing all season long."

While the ride is still far from over in the minds of the players and coaches, the team has exceeded expectations and has given Gamecock fans something to be proud of.

"It was for more than just ourselves," Staley said. "It was for Gamecock Nation who has been coming to the games and we didn't always play well, but I assured them that one day we were going to put a product on the floor that hopefully the year's past would be a distant memory."

Scouting Eastern Michigan

Unlike South Carolina's balanced attack, EMU is a one woman show. And she's a good one. Tavelyn James, a member of Team USA in the Pan American games, does it all for the Eagles. She averages 24 points per game, nearly twice as many as any other player. She drives, she pulls up, she gets to the free throw line. She shoots 41% from the floor and 31% from behind the arc. James has attempted 252 three pointers, 152 more three pointers than any other player on the roster combined.

Though James is the number one player, Natachia Watkins averages just under 13 points per game and Paige Redditt averages 10.5.

The Eagles average just under 17 turnovers per game so Carolina will certainly try and use their pressure defense to try and force turnovers and get some easy baskets.

Projected Starters:

Tavelyn James: 5'7 Guard
Natachia Watkins: 5'10 Guard/Forward
Paige Redditt: 6'1 Forward
Olivia Fouty: 5'11 Forward
Desyree Thomas: 5'7 Guard

EMU primarily uses seven players. Four of the five starters average over 30 minutes per game (Fouty averages 28.5). India Hairston (6'3 Center) and Taylor Byrd (5'8 Guard) are the primary subs, averaging 13.8 and 12.7 minutes, respectively. No other player averages more than 6.2 minutes per game.

Like South Carolina, EMU is not a very tall team, as evidence by only one starter at 6'1. The Eagles may try and use Hairston for her size advantage, but she is nothing the Gamecocks haven't seen throughout SEC play.

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