(5) Gamecocks Head to Georgia for Border Battle
COLUMBIA, S.C. (USC SID) — No. 5/4 South Carolina heads to Athens, Ga., for a Thursday night tilt against SEC border rival Georgia. The Gamecocks (17-1, 7-0 SEC) moved up a spot in the USA Today Coaches Poll after Monday night’s win, but the Lady Bulldogs (10-9, 2-4 SEC) are looking to bounce back from a three-game slide that began with a tough loss to the South Carolina two weeks ago.
SOUTH CAROLINA NOTABLES
- • Under head coach Dawn Staley, the Gamecocks are 8-6 against Georgia, including wins in six of the last seven outings. In the 14 games in this segment of the series, 11 included at least one nationally ranked team, four saw neither team reach 60 points and none of them have had either team score more than 69 points. The Gamecocks’ 66-63 win over Georgia earlier this month at Colonial Life Arena produced the highest combined score since the inaugural matchup of the Dawn Staley era resulted in a 69-63 Lady Bulldog victory (Jan. 11, 2009).
- • National Player of the Year watch lists continue to highlight the dominance of the Gamecock frontcourt of Alaina Coates and A’ja Wilson. Most recently named to the USBWA Ann Meyers Drysdale Midseason list, the duo appears on every list of 25 more candidates still in the running for the awards – Wooden Award Midseason (25), Naismith Trophy Preseason (50), Wade Watch Preseason (25).
- • The Gamecocks have steadily their free throw percentage in 2017, hitting 73.2 percent from the stripe in SEC action (fourth-best in the league) after hitting just 67.9 percent in non-conference play. Two Gamecocks rank among the league’s best in percentage as Kaela Davis leads the SEC at 91.3 percent against conference foes and Allisha Gray is 12th at 81.5 percent in SEC action.
- • Senior Alaina Coates became just the 12th player in Gamecock history to reach 1,500 career points against #4/4 Mississippi State (Jan. 23). Fitting for the center whose game is every expanding and undefendable, the milestone point came on her uncharacteristic drive through the lane for a tough layup in the final 25 seconds of the narrow win. Coates is just the fourth Gamecock to reach the mark while playing her entire career in the SEC.
- • In Thursday’s win over #4/4 Mississippi State, junior forward A’ja Wilson showed both that her ankle is fully recovered and why she is on the top of every national player of the year list this season. Her SEC career-high 26 points included 16 of the team’s 28 in the first half, scoring in a variety of ways – drive, midrange jumper, putback. In the second half as Allisha Gray warmed up her offense, Wilson attacked on the defensive end, blocking two shots and swiping two steals while helping secure the defensive glass.
- • Junior guard Allisha Gray has found her footing in SEC play, and more than just on the offensive end. Her 13.3 points per league game are third on the team as are her 5.1 rebounds and 2.0 assists per game. She was the SEC Player of the Week for her role in last week’s victories.
BY THE NUMBERS
1 Blocked shot needed by Alaina Coates to join teammate A’ja Wilson as the only Gamecocks all-time to reach 200 career blocks
3 Opponents this season who have scored more than 65 points – #7/6 Ohio state, #14/15 Texas, Duke
4 Gamecocks who rank among the SEC’s top 30 scorers in league play, NOT counting leading score A’ja Wilson (16.8 ppg), who does not yet meet the minimum 75 percent of games played
13 Games this season in which South Carolina’s starting lineup has scored at least as many points its opponents team, including 12 games of more points
GEORGIA SERIES NOTES
Georgia leads the series 33-12, although the Gamecocks have won the last five meetings and six of the last seven border battles. In the Dawn Staley era (beginning 2008-09), South Carolina leads the series 8-6 in what have been low-scoring affairs for both teams. Over the 14 games in the Staley era, which feature 11 outings in which at least one team was nationally ranked, neither team has scored more than 69 points in a game and four times neither has reached 60 points. During the current segment of the series, the Gamecocks average 55.2 points to the Lady Bulldogs’ 54.4 points.
In the defensive series, the Gamecocks’ 66-63 win over Georgia earlier this month at Colonial Lifea produced the highest combined score since the inaugural matchup of the Dawn Staley era resulted in a 69-63 Lady Bulldog victory (Jan. 11, 2009). The win came behind a strong first quarter for South Carolina, which played without A’ja Wilson but still built a 20-7 lead after the opening 10 minutes. The Lady Bulldogs battled to the end, though, out-scoring the Gamecocks in the second and fourth quarters by shooting 50.0 and 60.0 percent, respectively. South Carolina needed a pair of free throws from junior Allisha Gray with the final five seconds to seal the narrow victory.
Head coach Dawn Staley did not shy away from a challenging schedule this season, despite having to replace five seniors from last season’s squad. The Gamecocks’ overall schedule is ranked the sixth-toughest in the nation based on opponent winning percentage (.679). Their opponents have an average RPI of 83, which ranks fourth in the country and second in the SEC (behind Kentucky at second).
South Carolina’s docket features 19 games against teams that played in the 2016 postseason, including 16 against NCAA Tournament squads.
The slate includes seven games against teams ranked in either the AP or USA Today Coaches Top 25 this week, including two against this week’s top-10 teams. Just two of those seven games are home games for the Gamecocks.
The Gamecocks are currently second in the RPI behind unanimously ranked No. 1 UConn. Playing in the SEC, ranked second in the conference RPI standings, South Carolina has already faced six teams in the RPI top 25 and three others in the top five. The Gamecocks lead the SEC with five wins against this week’s top-25 RPI teams.
In the SEC, five other teams are ranked in the RPI top 25 – Mississippi State (4), Kentucky (14), Tennessee (16), Texas A&M (22) and Auburn (23).
TO THREE, OR NOT TO THREE
South Carolina added a pair of outside threats with junior transfers Kaela Davis and Allisha Gray, but the Gamecocks’ offensive strategy continues to center on the paint. In fact, the addition of the outside weapons has made South Carolina no more reliant on the 3-point shot for scoring this season than last.
This season’s 101 3s account for 21.3 percent of the Gamecocks’ total offense, which is just SHY of last season when the 190 3s made up 22.1 percent of the offense.
Interestingly, reliance on outside shooting decreases dramatically against ranked opponents. In five wins over top-25 foes this season, South Carolina’s 15 3-pointers made up just 11.8 percent of its 381 points, which is much lower than the 18.0 percent of the offense in 15 games against ranked foes last season.
The two-game absence of All-America forward A’ja Wilson also did not impact the Gamecocks’ desire to line it up from outside the arc. In the two games without Wilson in the lineup, 22.0 percent of South Carolina’s points came from long range compared to 21.2 percent in the games she has played.