Battle of Carolinas Set for Sunday at Stanford

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By Sports (Tim) Department (Hill)

(USC SID) -- No. 8/8 South Carolina and No. 12/13 North Carolina meet for a spot in the NCAA Tournament Elite Eight on Sun., Mar. 30, at approximately 7 p.m. (ET) at Maples Pavilion on the campus of Stanford University.

The top seed in the region, the Gamecocks (29-4) are looking to avenge a loss to the fourth-seeded Tar Heels (26-9) back in December in Myrtle Beach. South Carolina is in its second NCAA Sweet 16 in the last three seasons, looking for a spot in the Elite Eight for just the second time in school history.

Game Information
Opponent: North Carolina Tar Heels
Date: Sunday, March 30, 2014
TV: ESPN2 (Dave Pasch and Debbie Antonelli)
Radio: 107.5 The Game, 1320 AM The Fan (Brad Muller)
Live Video: WatchESPN
Series History: NC leads 10-7
South Carolina Notables

In its 11th NCAA Tournament appearance in program history, South Carolina has won at least one game in the event in all but three. The Gamecocks have reached the Sweet 16 four times, including two of the last three seasons under head coach Dawn Staley and a trip to the Elite Eight in 2002. It is the farthest into the event she has proceeded on the sidelines. As a player, she helped Virginia to three NCAA Final Four appearances.
The Gamecocks won their first SEC regular-season championship this season, adding women's basketball to the seven other program's to claim SEC titles since joining the league in 1991-92. It is the program's sixth regular-season conference title in women's basketball, but the first in the SEC. The Gamecocks exceeded all expectations with the title as the coaches predicted a fifth-place finish for them and the media rated them seventh in their preseason poll.
While the Gamecocks' improved offense has been the talk all season, the first two games of the NCAA Tournament proved that South Carolina has not forgotten its defensive roots. The Gamecocks held CSU Northridge 10 points below its scoring average, and the two Matadors averaging more than 15 points were limited to that number combined. Against Oregon State, sharp shooter Sydney Wiese did not score a point until the final 92 seconds.
Free throw shooting has been a roller coaster ride for the Gamecocks all season, and the first two NCAA games were no different. With both games within reach of the opponent in the final three minutes, the Gamecocks stepped up, hitting a combined 96.2 percent (25-of-26) from the stripe during that stretch after shooting just 63.2 percent (36-of-57) over the first 37 minutes of the two games combined.
South Carolina's field goal percentage may be down slightly in NCAA Tournament play, but the Gamecocks' offense is still in gear, averaging 2.4 points more per game than before the event began and turning it over just 10.0 times per game compared to a 14.6 average through the first 31 games of the season.

Notes
A South Carolina Win Would...

Send the Gamecocks to their second NCAA Elite Eight in school history.
Be the Gamecocks' 30th of the season, tying the school record for wins in a season, originally set by the 1979-80 team en route to the AIAW Final Four.
Advance head coach Dawn Staley farther into the NCAA Tournament than ever in her coaching career

By the Numbers
5 Different Gamecocks who have been the team's high scorer in a game this season - Alaina Coates, Asia Dozier, Elem Ibiam, Tiffany Mitchell and Aleighsa Welch
6 Gamecocks who have posted (or tied for) a team high in assists at least once this season - Mitchell, Dozier, Sessions, Welch, Roy, Gaines
8 Different Gamecocks who have scored in double figures at least once this season - Welch, Mitchell, Coates, Ibiam, Sessions, Dozier, Roy, Davis
9 Double-doubles by center Alaina Coates this season, tying the Gamecock freshman record for double-doubles in a season (Kelsey Bone in 2008-09)
12 Gamecocks all-time to record 1,000 points while also amassing at least 700 rebounds after the newest member, Aleighsa Welch, recorded her 1,000th point in the first 4:00 of the win at Kentucky (Feb. 20) and her 700th rebound against Oregon State (Mar. 25) - she is the seventh to reach the marks in fewer than four seasons
13 Weeks this season that South Carolina has been ranked among the AP top 10, including four among the top five
16 Individual 20-point games this season by the Gamecocks - seven by Tiffany Mitchell, five by Alaina Coates and four by Aleighsa Welch - Mitchell and Welch each scored 20 against Oregon State for the Gamecocks' first multiple 20-point scorers in a game since Nov. 18, 2011
15 Games this season in which sophomore guard Tiffany Mitchell has had a hand in at least one-third of the offense (points plus assists) - highlighted by helping to deliver 52.2 percent of the Gamecocks' 69 points against Winthrop (Dec. 20) - during which the Gamecocks are 13-1
14 Games in which South Carolina has shot at least 50.0 percent from the field this season - including two games over 60.0 percent (Charleston Southern, Ole Miss) - after reaching the mark just 12 times in the previous five seasons under Staley
24 Points needed by Alaina Coates to reach the South Carolina freshman top-five for points in a season
50.2 Percent of South Carolina's points this season scored in the paint, highlighted by scoring at least 50.0 percent of points in the paint in 16 games this season, including seven of at least 60.0 percent (Chas. Sthrn., 70.7%; at USC, 60.0%; UK, 61.8%; at Vandy, 75.4%; at UT, 75.4%; vs. UGA, 68.7%, 69.0% vs. UK)
57.9 Percent of South Carolina's field goals this season that have been assisted - the highest percentage of the Staley era
61.3 Percent field goal shooting by junior center Elem Ibiam in postseason play - best on the team
69 Blocked shots by center Alaina Coates this season, setting a new Gamecock freshman record and second in school history
83 Blocks by junior center Elem Ibiam this season, resetting the school single-season record previously held by Lakesha Tolliver (60 in 2006-07) - her 129 career blocks rank are sixth (record is 177 by Tolliver)
157 Free throws made this season by sophomore guard Tiffany Mitchell, who is now tied for the school single-season record


North Carolina Series Notes
The Tar Heels lead the series 10-7 after the team split their last two meetings. North Carolina avenged a 79-48 loss in the previous meeting (Dec. 18, 2011) with a 74-66 win on Dec. 18, 2013. Both games were in Myrtle Beach, S.C., where the two teams have met in four of the last five seasons. In this season's North Carolina victory, the Tar Heels took advantage of a sluggish first half for South Carolina then held off the Gamecocks in a second half that saw them get within one possession six times. Neither team lit it up from outside, but it was the Tar Heels' four 3s that made the difference as the Gamecocks hit just 1-of-11 from beyond the arc. The two Carolinas have not met in the postseason until tonight.


Five-Second Count
For the first time in her tenure at South Carolina, head coach Dawn's Staley's Gamecocks look different - on the court and in the box score. After seasons of building around defense, Staley finally has a group that is designed for offensive efficiency. The Gamecocks are scoring more (73.3 ppg, 59th in nation) and more efficiently (.478 FG %age - 1st in SEC, 5th in nation) than at any time in the Staley era. And, after seasons of talented guards generating their own offense, Staley's 2013-14 offense starts with getting the ball inside - three primary post players combine to score 48.4 percent of the team's points - and on ball movement creating the best shots as 57.9 percent of made field goals have been assisted. Defense is still a staple of the program with the Gamecocks ranking second in the SEC and seventh in the nation, allowing just 55.5 points per game.


Feeling Free
South Carolina sophomore Tiffany Mitchell's 23-of-28 free throw shooting effort so far in the NCAA Tournament is not only the school record for the event, but it also lifted her free throws made this season to 157 to tie the school record originally set by Martha Parker in 1987-88. Mitchell's 13-of-17 performance in the NCAA opener against Cal State Northride reset the program's NCAA Tournament single-game records, and her near repeat showing of 10-of-11 in the second round against Oregon State gives her the single-tournament and career-tournament records as well. On the season, Mitchell is shooting 79.3 percent from the free throw line to rank eighth in the SEC. That mark would be the third best in school history


Postseason Powerhouse
The end of the season seems to always bring out the best in South Carolina junior center Elem Ibiam, who has put up her biggest numbers in the SEC and NCAA Tournaments over the last three seasons. After averaging 14.0 points in this season's SEC Tournament, she is third on the team with 11.0 points per postseason contest after finishing out the regular season with a 9.5 scoring average. In all, the 6-foot-4 Ibiam averages 8.5 points on 59.2 percent shooting in her now 13 postseason games, compared to her 5.9 points per game on 49.6 percent shooting in regular-season games over the same time span. She was especially effective in the 2013 postseason, during which she averaged 11.5 points over four games after closing the regular season with a 4.4 scoring average.


Rising to the Challenge
South Carolina has played eight games against nationally ranked opponents this season, and two Gamecocks have lifted their games each time. Junior forward Aleighsa Welch leads the offense in South Carolina's 4-4 record against ranked foes, averaging 17.1 points - 4.6 more than her average against unranked foes - to go with her 9.0 rebounds per contest, which is two higher than her average against unranked teams. Sophomore guard Tiffany Mitchell is also contributing beyond her season numbers against the nation's best teams, grabbing 6.6 rebounds per contest (+1.5).

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