After Stanford, Carolina will host Charlotte on Sunday, then Connecticut. The Cardinal comes to Columbia in the midst of their own brutal three game stretch. Stanford is ranked third in the country, though that ranking will fall following a Tuesday night loss at twelfth-ranked Duke. After playing the Gamecocks, Stanford will complete its east coast trip by heading to Knoxville to face eleventh-ranked Tennessee.
"I think we're in a good place," Staley said. "Yes, of course they lost against Duke, and we saw they got exposed in certain things. I know Tara and she's going to clean those things up for our game. Maybe they're coming in here underestimating us a little bit and preparing for a big game against Tennessee. We'll give them a run for their money."
The Gamecocks and Cardinal have met just once before, two years ago in Palo Alto. Stanford won that game 69-54. Making matters even more difficult, ten teams ranked in the nation's top three have visited the Gamecocks, and Carolina has beaten just one (#3 Auburn in 1993). That does not mean Staley wishes the Cardinal were off the schedule.
"We like to measure where we are as far as the rest of country," said Staley. "I think this particular basketball team is well coached. They're skilled, they take what you give them, and they do what they do well. Hopefully we can disrupt them a little bit a kind of play our style of play, which is kind of play a little bit quicker than they want to play, but […] to be more in control."
"They're a very fundamental and disciplined team," said Brionna Dickerson, who is leading the Gamecocks in scoring at 11.4 points per game. "The past couple of days we've just been focused on the things that we need to get done, the things that are our strengths, that we can use to go against them."
South Carolina is used to playing elite opponents in the SEC. Tennessee and LSU are perennial powers who have both won National Championships in recent years. However, having teams like Stanford and Connecticut come to Columbia is another matter. Stanford is just the second non-conference top-three team, after Oklahoma in 2006, to visit Columbia. If Staley has her way, though, there will be a lot more games like this in the future.
"In the past we've always played tope ten teams in the country," she said. "Whether or not they'll continue to play us, I don't know. We will hopefully be amongst them in a short while and hopefully these can be battles of top ten teams in the country."
"For the freshmen, they are learning that this is going to be an every year thing," said senior Demetress Adams, the team's leading rebounder. "In preseason, you're going to play these types of teams along with your conference."
Staley and assistant coach Nikki McCray know VanDerveer from the 1996 Olympics. That year, Staley and McCray were players and VanDerveer was the coach of the American team that rolled to a gold medal in Atlanta. That familiarity will not help either side when they match wits Friday night.
"It will be good seeing her. We won a gold medal together, and we want to each other to do well; just not tomorrow night," Staley said. "I don't know if I can outguess her. Tara is a really disciplined coach and very methodical. She likes to see basketball played a certain way. For us, we like for basketball not to be played in that light. I think that will kind of get under her skin. They're a little more skilled than we are, and we're going to have to take that element out of the game."
Staley's inaugural season as the Gamecock coach has been a struggle, and she admitted when she was hired it could take awhile to adjust to Columbia after living in Philadelphia most of her life. Reminded of that Thursday, she said the adjustment is easy during basketball season, but she is especially happy to be at South Carolina.
"It's basketball season right now," she said. "I could be in Alaska right now and it would be the same routine for me, but I'm enjoying this: it's 77 degrees outside."
Tipoff is scheduled for 7:00 PM. The game will be televised on SportSouth.
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