WBB: Carolina/Purdue battle for Sweet Sixteen

When South Carolina takes the court Monday night to take on Purdue, they will be attempting to do something that has not been done since the 2002 season and something Staley has never done as a coach; advance to the Sweet Sixteen. Carolina is coming off an 80-48 win over Eastern Michigan.

Game Information

Monday, March 19, 2012
Time: 7:20 p.m.
Location: West Lafayette, Ind.
Arena: Mackey Arena (14,240)
TV: ESPN2 (Stephen Bardo and Brenda VanLengen)
Radio: WISW 1320 AM (Brad Muller)
Live Stats: GamecocksOnline.com
Purdue Series: PUR leads 2-0; Neutral Site: PUR leads 2-0

They picked the right time to get hot.

For the first time since 2010, South Carolina scored 80 points in an 80-48 win over Eastern Michigan in the first round of the NCAA Tournament. It was also the 14th time this season – first in NCAA Tournament history – that the Gamecock defense limited its opposition to 48 points or fewer.

"You know, obviously we scored the most points we scored all season long," head coach Dawn Staley said Sunday afternoon. "Hopefully we'll have some carryover from having scored the most points we have scored in that basketball game and the least amount of point the scored. We know Purdue. We are familiar with them a little bit. We watched their championship. For us, we just take each opponent, we know they play man to man primarily, so you know, we are prepared for the elbow; it's something we have not seen in quite some time. So whatever defenses they throw out there, hopefully our offense can knock down some shots."

Carolina held Tavelyn James, the nation's second leading scorer, to just 11 points in the opening round game. It will take a similar effort against Purdue's Courtney Moses, who set an NCAA Tournament record with nine three-pointers in their opening round game.

"I think collectively, we play defense as a team," Staley said. "We do have some parts in which we feel comfortable on certain match ups, and we feel like Keisha Sutton is the one that really is the player that we use to stop our opponent's leading scorer. She's done it time and time again. She's done it ever since she got to South Carolina four years ago and we are comfortable with her having that duty."

While Moses can obviously shoot the ball with consistency, unlike James and Eastern Michigan, she's not the only weapon. Brittany Rayburn averages more points per game than Moses and also has a better percentage from behind the three-point line and 30 more attempts. KK Houser is the third-leading scorer on the team behind Rayburn and Moses, but shoots 32% from behind the arc, second behind only Rayburn.

"Well, you know, obviously Purdue has some very skilled players and they are pretty much they are a machine when it comes to offense," Staley said. "They do have some skills. They do have some players that they stretch you out a little bit. I think that what has been our MO all season long is try to disrupt what they are trying to do. So I'm very comfortable with the amount of ball pressure that we exert on basketball teams and I don't think we are going to approach it any differently. We are who we are at this point. I don't think we are going to abandon how we play; how we play the game, according to, you know, who they have as far as offensive power."

While Purdue brings a three-headed monster of three-point shooters, the Gamecocks have used their own three-headed monster in Ieasia Walker, Markeshia Grant, and La'Kiesha Sutton to defend three-point shooters. It will be a game of strength against strength as the Boilermakers bring in a team that shoots nearly 32% from behind the arc while the Gamecocks bring in the nation's number one defense in three point percentage, limiting opponents to just under 21% shooting from behind the arc.

"You know, for us, we like players that like to shoot three point shots and put the ball on the floor," Staley said. "And I don't think there's any secret to that. It's just not allowing them to take attempts. That's our motto. We like our chances and you two ing us to win basketball games than three ing us."

If you think the Boilermakers are just a three-point team, you will be in trouble. Purdue has a post presence, with 6'4 center Chelsea Jones and 6'2 forward Sam Ostarello.

"They have big post players who are effective with two feet in the paint," Charenee Stephens said. "And we have seen that; I know time and time again we have gone up against some really big post players who are really effective down low. I think we are just going to try to push them out of paint and keep them off of the boards. That's really the key thing by any means necessary. No extra possessions."

Purdue will be the eleventh ranked opponent the Gamecocks have faced this season, going 5-5 in those contests. The 13th-ranked Boilermakers are the fifth of those eleven teams that are ranked 13th or higher. Carolina is 1-4 in those games, with the lone win against then-8th ranked Tennessee.

"We have been in these situations before against other basketball teams and we are going to prepare the same way," Sutton said. "Just different personnel. We have to get familiar with their players, and we have done that a little bit last night and this morning, so we are pretty confident."

Of course the biggest advantage Purdue will have is the home-court advantage. The 14,240-seat arena will be full of gold and black, but it's not something Carolina has not seen before this season.

"I think any time you're in an unfamiliar place, the NCAA Tournament against this particular team and being in the second round, you have to draw on some experience to keep it very familiar to you as much as possible," Staley said. "We have talked to our players about playing Vanderbilt at Vanderbilt when they were undefeated at home; knowing that they were going to draw a large crowd; playing Tennessee in Knoxville, something that had not been done in a lot of years, a lot of decades for us. And also playing in the semifinals in the SEC Tournament where we felt like Tennessee had a home crowd and we fared fairly well in all of those games and we'll draw on all of those experiences to help us with this situation."

With Purdue's high-powered offense and South Carolina's lock-down defense going at it at one end of the court, the Gamecocks can draw from Saturday's game against EMU on the other end offensive side of the court. Having already played in the arena and scoring 80 point, confidence will be high for the Gamecock shooters.

"It's a huge confidence boost because we hit shots and were able to score easy in transition," Sutton said. "Just knowing that we were able to hit shots, we are going to go and do the same thing on Monday and penetrate and kick it out or go inside to our post players. So we are confident that we'll make the same kind of shots."

A win over the Boilermakers will send Carolina to the Sweet Sixteen for the first time since the 2002 season, and will be the first time Staley has survived the first weekend of the NCAA Tournament in her coaching career. With the 2012 season already considered to be a huge success, anything else would be icing on the cake and another opportunity for the five seniors to play another game.

"Well, I think it would be - you know, it's a tribute to our players being committed to something," Staley said. "I think they really believe in one another, and it will go to show that once you have an incredible belief in something, that you know, it's tangible and it can take place. So I say to our team, it's been a tremendous ride, and why not the University of South Carolina playing in the Sweet 16?"

Projected Purdue Starters

Courtney Moses 5'6 Guard
KK Houser 5'6 Guard
Brittany Rayburn 6'0 Guard
Sam Ostarello 6'2 Forward
Chelsea Jones 6'4 Center

Quotes courtesy of gamecocksonline.com

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