No. 5/4 South Carolina Hosts Another Big Monday Matchup
COLUMBIA, S.C. — No. 5/4 South Carolina is back at Colonial Life Arena for a Monday night SEC showdown as Tennessee comes to town for a 6 p.m. tipoff. The Gamecocks (18-1, 8-0 SEC) are in their second-straight Big Monday game on ESPN2 and will honor legendary coach Pat Summitt with a fan-participation card stunt between the third and fourth quarters.
SOUTH CAROLINA NOTABLES
- • Between the third and fourth quarters of tonight’s game, South Carolina fans will participate in the first college women’s basketball card stunt when the lower bowl of Colonial Life Arena helps the Gamecocks honor legendary Lady Vol coach Pat Summitt.
- • South Carolina has won the last three meetings against the Lady Vols, a feat only four other SEC programs have accomplished. The Gamecocks look to join Ole Miss as the only conference opponent ever to win four straight outings against Tennessee. Tonight’s game marks the just the second in the series in which an unranked Lady Vols squad will take on a ranked Gamecock team. That Jan. 25, 1982, contest was also in Columbia.
- • Tonight’s game features two of the SEC’s top-four scorers in Diamond DeShields (17.5 ppg) and A’ja Wilson (16.9) and two of the league’s top five rebounders in Alaina Coates (11.1 rpg) and Mercedes Russell (9.2).
- • In SEC games, South Carolina (73.5 ppg) and Tennessee (72.0) are the league’s top two scoring teams. The Gamecocks also lead the league in scoring defense (53.6), while the Lady Vols come in 10th (68.6).
- • The Gamecocks have shown that they can win games this season at all paces. In SEC play, they’ve won four games scoring in the 60s, one in the 70s, two in the 80s and one in the 90s. South Carolina has won games with two 10-point scorers (2-0), three in double digits (4-0) and four netting 10 or more points (2-0).
- • 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).
- • South Carolina’s Alaina Coates is one of six players on an AP top-25 team averaging a double-double this season with her 13.7 points and 11.1 rebounds per game. She has played the third-fewest minutes per game of the group (27.4) and is second in field goal percentage (.658). Of the six teams those players represent, only the Gamecocks have more than three players averaging double-figure points and only two (including South Carolina) have another player averaging more than 6.5 rebounds.
- • Junior guard Allisha Gray has found a way to let the game come to her, a process seemingly assisted by a move into the forward position for two games due to the absence of her roommate A’ja Wilson from the Gamecock lineup. The kickstart those two outings carried over to the next three games, and in the last five games, she is second on the team in scoring (16.2 ppg), field goal percentage (.574), assists (1.8 apg) and steals (1.6 spg). In that time, her 5.6 rebounds per game are third on the squad, and she has shot 54.5 percent from the 3-point line during the stretch.
- • In the two games since being fully cleared from her ankle injury, junior forward A’ja Wilson averaged 22.5 points and 10.0 rebounds per game, adding 2.5 blocks and 2.5 assists to the Gamecocks’ victories.
BY THE NUMBERS
2 Gamecocks all-time to record 200 career blocked shots – Alaina Coates (203) and A’ja Wilson (204)
12.4 Rebounds per game by senior Alaina Coates over the last five games
14 Games this season in which South Carolina’s starting lineup has scored at least as many points its opponents team, including 13 games of more points
16.2 Points per game by junior guard Allisha Gray in the last five games
16.7 Free throws made per game by the Gamecocks this season, compared to 8.4 by their opponents
26.5 Minutes per game played by A’ja Wilson, the fewest of any of the SEC’s top 10 scorers
50.8 Percent of her career games played in which Alaina Coates has grabbed double-digit rebounds, including 14 of 19 games this season
TENNESSEE SERIES NOTES
The Lady Vols lead the series 45-5, but four of the Gamecocks’ wins have come in the last five seasons, including the last three meetings. Both teams have been nationally ranked in the last showdowns.
In last season’s lone matchup, the Gamecocks overcame a sluggish first quarter to play more aggressively in the second, leading to seven of their 16 points in the period coming from the free throw line and a defensive effort that limited the Lady Vols to just 28.6 percent shooting and nine points. A see-saw third quarter went the Gamecocks’ way behind 10 points from A’ja Wilson in her first game in Thompson-Boling Arena. Tennessee drew within three with 7:26 to play when a 12-2 South Carolina surge led to a double-digit advantage in the final 90 seconds.
Head coach Dawn Staley has steadily lifted the Gamecocks’ national profile by building the Gamecocks into a consistent SEC contender with three straight regular-season titles, shirking decades of difficulty in the nation’s best women’s basketball conference.
In her ninth season at the helm, Staley boasts a 91-43 (.679) SEC regular-season record and has finished outside the league’s top five just twice – an unprecedented achievement for a program that had finished INSIDE the top five only two times in the previous 17 seasons. Staley’s 91 wins include five seasons of double-digit league victories – 10 in 2012, 11 in 2013, an SEC-best 14 in 2014 and 15 in 2015, and 16 in 2016 – and account for 58.7 percent of the program’s all-time 155 league wins.
Staley’s SEC regular-season record includes a 50-18 (.735) mark at home and a 41-25 (.621) slate on the road.
GREAT GAMECOCK FANS
With over 10,000 season-ticket holders for the second-straight season, South Carolina leads the nation in average attendance at 12,180 and is the only program drawing at least 10,000 fans per game.
The Gamecocks have posted the highest average attendance at the end of the last two seasons and have enjoyed steady fan growth over the last five years – 3,952 in 2012-13; 6,371 in 2013-14; 12,293 in 2014-15; 14,364 in 2015-16.
South Carolina fans have proven they’ll travel to see their Gamecocks as well. In the Dec. 4 game at Duke, the Blue Devils reported attendance of 6,036 after drawing just 3,112 prior to the contest. On Dec. 21, Savannah State drew 1,411 for its game against South Carolina despite averaging just 790 before that.
Junior transfer Allisha Gray may be the Gamecocks’ most quiet and consistent offensive powerhouse, tying for team-high honors with in double-figure points in 15 of 19 games this season, including opening her inaugural Gamecock season with five straight double-digit scoring outings and currently enjoying a six-game streak. She scores 13.6 points per game (20th in the SEC) on 51.1 percent shooting.
The best part of Gray’s game, however, is likely the often-masked competitive fire that gives her the ability to deliver whatever the team needs in the most crucial moments:
- Kick off her South Carolina career with a 24-point outing at #7/6 Ohio State (Nov. 14) that included 10-of-18 shooting and some of the most momentum-killing baskets of the game;
- Play in the power forward spot with A’ja Wilson on the bench against Georgia (Jan. 12) and LSU (Jan. 15) to grab tough rebounds and hit free throw to seal win over the Lady Bulldogs;
- Return to the guard spot to pour in 16 third-quarter points against #4/4 Mississippi State (Jan. 23) to pull Gamecocks out of a seven-point halftime deficit then sprint to defend a breakaway layup that kept South Carolina in front in the final minute of the game.
The unassuming six-foot guard amassed 1,000 points in her first two seasons at North Carolina, but her contributions go beyond the scoring column. She is tied for the team lead with 50 assists (2.6 apg), including eight games of at least three. Gray also adds 4.5 rebounds per game with nine games of five or more boards. In fact, she has twice led the team in rebounding – Saint Peter’s (Nov. 22), at Duke (Dec. 4).
AW = ALL-WORLD
In her third season at South Carolina, junior forward A’ja Wilson is already one of the most decorated Gamecocks in program history as a three-time All-American, the reigning SEC Player and Defensive Player of the Year and a finalist for all three national player of the year awards last season.
This season, Wilson is back atop the Gamecocks’ scoring list with 16.9 points per game to rank fourth in the SEC. She has six 20-point games to her credit already this season, including a career-best 31 points at #14/15 Texas (Dec. 1). She entered the season with 12 career 20-point outings (seven in 2015-16, five in 2014-15). Shooting 56.9 percent from the field, she is fourth in the SEC and 23rd in the nation.
Defensively, Wilson is just as strong as last season when she set the school record for blocked shots in a season with 103. This season, her 2.1 blocks per game are third in the SEC and 37th in the nation. She broke the school record for career blocks (previously 177) with two against Saint Peter’s (Nov. 22), her 74th career game, fewer than anyone else on the program’s top 10 list. She now sits at 204 in just 87 career games played.