Gamecocks host Kentucky, seek season sweep Sunday
COLUMBIA, S.C. — No. 8/8 South Carolina begins its final week of home games for the season Sunday against Kentucky. Tipoff at Colonial Life Arena is set for 3 p.m. on SEC Network. The Gamecocks (21-5, 10-3 SEC) have three games remaining this season, including two against teams also competing for one of the coveted top four seeds in the SEC Tournament, which begins Feb. 28 in Nashville.
Parking in Lots A and B will be pass only, however, public handicap parking in those lots will be $10. Additional private and city lot parking is also $10. Shuttles from the Pendleton and Park Street garages will begin two hours prior to tip-off, and will be $3 roundtrip.
SOUTH CAROLINA NOTABLES
>> Today’s game matches up two of the three active SEC coaches who have recorded at least 100 regular-season league victories in Kentucky‘s Matthew Mitchell (107) and South Carolina’s Dawn Staley (107). The two leaders, in their 11th and 10th seasons, respectively, are among just eight coaches all-time have amassed at least 100 SEC regular-season victories at one school.
>> As national player of the year candidate A’ja Wilson closes in on the program’s all-time scoring record (84 points away), it should be noted that she is just the 13th player since the NCAA began tracking stats (1981-82) to record 2,000 points and 1,000 rebounds while playing her entire career in the SEC. The senior forward is also nearing the 1,000-point mark in SEC regular-season games only.
>> Starting guards Tyasha Harris and Bianca Jackson have stepped up their offensive contributions and efficiency in the last five games as both average double figures and are shooting over 40.0 percent from 3-point range. Harris has been the most consistent, averaging 13.2 points over the stretch, including at least 15 points in each of the last three outings, during which she shot 7-of-12 from 3-point range. Jackson has been in double figures three of the last five games to average 10.2 points in that time, including 8-of-19 3-point shooting and a 20-point outing against #1/1 UConn.
BY THE NUMBERS
7 Consecutive seasons in which South Carolina has recorded double-digit SEC wins
17 Of their 26 games in which the Gamecocks have assisted on at least 50.0 percent of their field goals – winning 16 of those games
36 Points needed by A’ja Wilson to record 1,000 in SEC regular-season games
KENTUCKY SERIES NOTES
Kentucky leads the series 33-29, but the Gamecocks have won the last seven and 10 of the last 12 contests. South Carolina is 13-9 against Kentucky in the Dawn Staley era. In this season’s earlier meeting in Lexington, the Gamecocks saw the return of A’ja Wilson after missing two games with an ankle injury, and she celebrated with 26 points, eight rebounds, four blocks and three steals. The Gamecocks opened the game cold from the field, hitting just 4-of-16 in the first quarter, but went on to hit 28-of-37 (.757) over the rest of the game. A 21-8 second quarter that saw Wilson and Alexis Jennings go a combined 6-of-8 from the field established what proved to be an insurmountable lead.
South Carolina is ranked eighth in this week’s Associated Press Poll, making it the 107th consecutive entry for the Gamecocks in the poll – the fifth-longest active streak in the nation. The Gamecocks have spent 83 straight weeks in the nation’s top 10 and are one of just three teams to have stayed among the nation’s top 10 every week since the start of the 2014-15 season. In the 72 polls since the start of the 2014-15 season, South Carolina has spent 59 in the top five, trailing UConn’s 71 and Notre Dame’s 59 such weeks.
Despite the long-time dominance and presence of this season’s senior class of A’ja Wilson and Bianca Cuevas-Moore, the Gamecocks are, in fact, an extremely young team. With Wilson and Cuevas-Moore, only Doniyah Cliney had been in the program more than one season, and she averaged just 15.7 minutes over the first two seasons of her career. With Cuevas-Moore out for the season and several others missing various games due to injury, South Carolina has relied heavily on its three-member freshman class of LeLe Grissett, Bianca Jackson and LaDazhia Williams. In SEC play alone, that trio has been on the court 18.0 minutes per game. That is the most time a Gamecock freshman class has played since 2012-13 freshmen Asia Dozier, Tiffany Mitchell and Khadijah Sessions played 19.4 minutes per SEC game. In the Gamecocks’ 27 seasons in the SEC, only eight freshman classes have logged more minutes than the current group. Three of those eight have come under Staley – 2009-10 (20.9 mpg), 2012-13 (19.4 mpg) and 2008-09 (20.9 mpg).
Preseason All-SEC Second-Team selection Tyasha Harris has heeded her head coach’s challenge to expand her game now that “the novelty has worn off,” and the sophomore has answered the challenge, picking up her contributions in all aspects of the game this season. At 11.9 points per game, Harris is 27th in the SEC and has more than doubled her freshman year average (5.6 ppg). She has netted double figures 15 times this season with 11 of those coming in SEC play, including a career-high 28 points against #6/6 Tennessee (Jan. 14). Her 14.2 points per SEC game are 19th in the league and have come on 47.8 percent field goal shooting. With 25 made 3s already this season, she is just one shy of her 2016-17 season total. Meanwhile, Harris continues to show great court vision and command of the offense, ranking 19th in the nation with an SEC-best 6.3 assists per game – a number that rises to 6.5 in league play. Her 2.8 assist-to-turnover ratio is 15th in the nation. Harris has amassed six points-assists double-doubles, a number puts her among just three Gamecocks in the SEC era to record multiple points-assists double-doubles. Cristina Ciocan leads the group with nine in her career (4 in 2002-03, 5 in 2003-04) with Shaunzinski Gortman joining the trio with two in 1999-2000. Defensively, Harris has become a menace as well with 2.3 steals per game to rank third in the SEC. She has seven games of four or more steals, including a season-high six against Western Carolina (Nov. 30) and Savannah State (Dec. 17).