Lady Gamecocks Prepare for #1 UConn

Santa Claus brought Dawn Staley an early Christmas present when the Gamecocks (6-4) played their best game of the year in a win over Charlotte on December 21. When the team reconvened to start preparing for #1 Connecticut (10-0), Staley found a lump of coal waiting for her.

"I think we were playing some good basketball before the break," Staley said. "The break has kind of [taken] two steps backwards. We're going to try to go out there and put a game plan together, and hopefully we'll get lucky."

The players were given a workout regime they were supposed to adhere to over the break. Staley did not suggest that the regimes had been ignored, but said the time away from the court was very noticeable.

"Sometimes a break is more bad than good," she said. "Once you've been in the mode of practice and you do it every single day, […] sometimes your body relaxes a little bit and you've got to shock it back into shape."

Connecticut comes to Columbia undefeated and ranked number one in the nation. UConn routed the Gamecocks 97-39 in Storrs last season. The Huskies are the second of two elite opponents on the Gamecock's non-conference schedule, with the first being then #3 Stanford. Realistically, the Gamecocks have little hope of winning, and Staley is more interested in seeing progress from her team.

"We're playing to win, but we also know what we're faced against," said Staley. "They're more talented than we are, from top to bottom. They play at another level of basketball that we're trying to get to. It's more so a measuring stick to where we are."

Staley and UConn coach Geno Auriemma have never faced each other as coaches, but Auriemma was an assistant coach under Nell Fortner on the gold-medal winning 2000 U.S. Olympic team, on which Staley and assistant Nikki McCray were players. Auriemma joined the team late, and did not work much with Staley.

"You've got to take your hat off to him; he's built a dynasty there," she said. "He has a model program for somebody like us."

South Carolina has never beaten a team ranked higher than third (Auburn in 1990 and 1993), and has not hosted the top-ranked team in the country since Tennessee came to Columbia in 2006. After playing Connecticut and Stanford, half of last year's Final Four, just nine days apart, Staley joked that she is ready to get to the easy part of the schedule and start conference play. The SEC schedule includes the other half of last year's Final Four, LSU and defending champion Tennessee.

"It seems like a cake walk, right?" Staley asked jokingly. "You want to play Stanford and you want to play Connecticut to get that feel for what it is to play in the SEC, and play ranked teams. We'll use that experience against [the SEC]. You'll see us fair a little bit differently against the SEC teams."

Tipoff is Sunday at 3:00. The game will be televised by SportSouth. Carolina's next game will be against Jacksonville at 3:00 on Tuesday, December 30, prior to the men's game against Clemson.

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