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Jan. 8, 2003

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The 13th-ranked South Carolina Gamecocks tip off the 21st season of Southeastern Conference Thursday night against the No. 14 Bulldogs of Mississippi State. Game time is set for 7:00 p.m. and the contest has been designated as “Can the Bulldogs” night. All fans who bring a canned food item will receive a ticket for $2. All donations will be given to Harvest Hope Food Bank.

Thursday night’s game features the SEC’s top two scorers as Jocelyn Penn leads the conference (and the nation) with 28.2 points per game and MSU’s LaToya Thomas is second in the conference at 23.3 points (ninth in the nation). Thomas captured the last three SEC scoring crowns with averages around 24 points each season.

The Gamecocks bring a 12-1 record into its SEC opener for the second consecutive year while MSU is 11-2 after defeating Alabama-Birmingham on Monday night, 72-50. The Gamecocks are 1-1 this season against ranked teams.

USC has a streak of back-to-back SEC season opening victories on the line after capturing victories against Vanderbilt (in 2001-02) and Arkansas (2000-01). The team suffers from an overall record of 4-7 in SEC openers in its 11-year membership in the conference but will look to improve on that number tonight.

Senior Jocelyn Penn captured her second SEC Player of the Week honor on Monday after the Naismith candidate set two new USC records last week. On Saturday, Penn recorded 51 points against Stetson to set a new USC record for points scored. Her 51 points also tied the SEC record from 1977 for most points in a game. She holds the NCAA’s only two 50+ point games since SW Missouri State’s Jackie Stiles accomplished the feat on March 3, 2001.

Earlier in the week, the Conyers, Georgia-native became South Carolina’s all-time leader in steals with her 299th career theft against South Carolina State. She now ranks 11th alltime among SEC players with 305 steals and is only 45 behind the leader, Niesa Johnson of Alabama (350). Penn won her first SEC Player of the Week award less than a month ago (December 9th) after scoring 50 points against Wofford.

The Gamecocks have two other players averaging in double figures as Cristina Ciocan is second in scoring with 11.5 points and first in assists with 7.3 per game while Petra Ujehlyi is third in scoring at 11.2. Ujhelyi leads USC (and the SEC) in rebounding as the senior pulls down 9.9 rebounds per game. Up until Saturday’s game against Stetson, Ujhelyi was averaging double figures in both points and rebounds.

Mississippi State is led by three-time All America forward LaToya Thomas and sophomore guard Tan White. Thomas leads the Bulldogs with 24.3 points and 7.7 rebounds per game while White contributes 18.3 points and four assists per contest.

The Bulldogs lead the all-time series by an 8-5 count but are only 2-4 on USC’s home court. The Gamecocks have captured the last two contests.