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March 4, 2009

South Carolina vs. Mississippi State | 10 p.m. ET
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Last Time Out
South Carolina had a two-point lead at the half but could not stop a hot-shooting Kentucky team in the second period as the Wildcats posted a 70-53 victory Sunday afternoon in the regular-season finale at Colonial Life Arena. The 3,187 fan that came to send the 2008-09 Gamecock Senior Class out in style saw a hard-fought first half before a 17-4 Kentucky run early in the second half established an insurmountable lead for the visiting team. Senior C.J. Pace was the Gamecocks’ leading scorer and rebounder with 14 points and seven boards to go along with a career-high four blocked shots in the final home game of her career.

Series Notes
Mississippi State has a 14-9 lead in the series after the win earlier this season, but the Gamecocks have won three of the last six meetings. Before the Lady Bulldogs posted a 58-41 win over the Gamecocks on Feb. 26, 2009, they escaped Colonial Life Arena with a 54-48 victory on Feb. 21, 2008. The teams split the home-and-home series in the 2006-07 season, each winning on its home floor, and South Carolina swept the 2005-06 season series. South Carolina and Mississippi State have met only once before in the SEC Tournament, interestingly right here at Alltel Arena. With both teams nationally ranked, the then-No. 11 Lady Bulldogs escaped the quarterfinals with a 79-75 win over the then-No. 13 Gamecocks on March 7, 2003.

Injury Report
Senior Brionna Dickerson is out for the season after suffering a right knee injury against Vanderbilt on Jan. 25. Senior Demetress Adams is out for the season after successful right knee surgery on Feb. 4 to repair an injury she suffered at Ole Miss on Jan. 22.

A South Carolina Win Would …
• Be just the Gamecocks’ second SEC Tournament win since the 2003 event. The only other victory during that stretch was a 65-63 first-round win over Auburn on March 1, 2007.
• Be the Gamecocks first when seeded No. 10 or lower since 11th-seeded Carolina posted a 76-61 victory over LSU in the 1998 tournament.
• Be the Gamecocks’ first over Mississippi State in the SEC Tournament.
• Be head coach Dawn Staley’s first SEC Tournament victory.

The Gold Standard
While head coach Dawn Staley has become synonymous with Olympic gold, the entire South Carolina coaching staff boasts a wealth of experience and achievement. Including assistant coaches Lisa Boyer, Carla McGhee and Nikki McCray, the Gamecock women’s basketball staff has combined for 39 years of coaching experience, 29 years of playing professionally in the United States, seven Olympic gold medals and two NCAA National Championships.

The Envelope Please…
Guard Lakeisha Sutton earned a spot on the SEC All-Freshman team, the league announced on Tuesday. A unanimous selection by the league’s head coaches, Sutton is the first Gamecock to earn a spot on the team since Demetress Adams was voted to it in 2005-06.

To Three or Be Free
For South Carolina this season, a one-point free throw has been far move valuable than a 3-pointer when it comes to posting victories. The Gamecocks are just 1-11 on the season when attempting the same number or fewer free throws than 3-point field goals in a game, meaning that nine of the team’s 10 wins have been with the Gamecocks toeing the charity stripe more often than the 3-point arc. While senior Brionna Dickerson was among the SEC’s top 3-point shooters prior to her injury, South Carolina is just 2-10 when attempting 15 or more long-range shots and just 3-7 when making five or more 3-pointers.

Diagnosing the Injury Bug
It’s no surprise that the Gamecocks have struggled to find wins in the nine games since losing seniors Demetress Adams and Brionna Dickerson to season-ending knee injuries. While Dickerson was the team’s leading scorer and ranked among the SEC’s elite shooters at the time of her injury, South Carolina is down just 3.6 points per game since she left the Vanderbilt game with the injury. The loss of Adams, a second-team All-SEC selection and a member of the league’s All-Defensive team in 2007-08, is most noticeable in two areas that tend to make the game easier ­- free throw shooting and rebounding. In the Gamecocks’ first 18 games, which includes the Ole Miss game in which Adams suffered her injury, they averaged 19.0 free throw attempts per game and hit them at a 68.4 percent clip. Adams shot a team-best 74.0 percent from the stripe. Since then, Carolina is shooting just 13.9 free throws per game and scoring just 66.4 percent of them. On the glass, the Gamecocks had a +3.3 rebounding margin with Adams in the lineup versus a -3.1 mark in her absence. At the time of her injury, Adams ranked fifth in the SEC with 7.2 boards per game. The difference in the numbers is even more impressive when considering that five of the Gamecocks’ seven games against nationally-ranked opponents, including three top-10 teams, came prior to Adams’ injury.

Sending Out an SOS
Through games of March 3, South Carolina is ranked 20th in the nation in strength of schedule (SOS). In the SEC, only Tennessee (2) and LSU (9) played a tougher regular-season schedule than the Gamecocks. Of the 19 teams ahead of South Carolina in the standings, 13 are ranked in either the AP or USA Today/ESPN Coaches Poll, including seven in the top 10, and 17 have an RPI of 50 or better.

Upping the Pace
As the lone senior still on the court for the Gamecocks, C.J. Pace has lifted her own game in addition to leading her youthful teammates down the stretch. Since the Jan. 25 game against Vanderbilt, Pace has averaged 10.8 points and a team-high 6.8 rebounds with 29 of her 61 boards coming on the offensive end. She has scored in double figures six times during the nine-game stretch, including 18 points in the win over Alabama. Overall this season, Pace’s 6.0 rebounds per game are 16th-most in the SEC and her 7.5 points per game are more than double her offensive production from last season.

Flashy Frosh
SEC All-Freshman guard Lakeisha Sutton is the Gamecocks’ second-leading scorer and ranks 22nd in the league at 11.1 points per game. She immediately stamped her name among the SEC’s elite freshmen with 17 points in her league debut against No. 9/8 Auburn. She has scored in double figures in 15 games with nine of those with 15 or more points, including five of the last eight – missing the mark at Mississippi State by one point. So far in SEC play, Sutton averages 13.6 points to rank 10th in the league, tops among SEC freshmen. Sutton is also among the SEC’s top 15 in assists per game (3.6, 9th), field goal percentage (.425, 8th) free throw percentage (.736, 10th) and assist-to-turnover ratio (0.8, 14th) in conference games.

Wiping the Glass
Freshman forward Charenee Stephens has been the Gamecocks’ leading rebounder in SEC play and ranks 14th in the league with 6.0 boards per conference game. She has pulled down seven or more rebounds in five of her 14 conference games, including two games of double-digit boards – 11 at Tennessee and 12 at Ole Miss. She is the first Gamecock freshman to average at least 6.0 rebounds per game in SEC play since Iva Sliskovic grabbed 7.0 per game in 2003-04.

Court Presence
While no player relishes profiting from a teammate’s loss, redshirt-freshman Courtney Newton has made the most of her increased playing time since the injuries to seniors Demetress Adams and Brionna Dickerson. A tough player who will mix it up on the block and hit the outside shot, Newton has contributed to the Gamecock effort in every way possible. In the nine games since Adams suffered her injury, Newton is averaging 4.9 points and 3.9 rebounds. In the absence of Adams in the Jan. 22 game at Ole Miss, Newton grabbed a then-career-high five rebounds and scored 10 points, hitting a pair of 3-pointers and sinking 4-of-6 from the free throw line. It was her first double-figure scoring game of the season. She scored nine points at Kentucky and picked up three steals then topped both those efforts with a season-high 12 points and a career-high four steals against Ole Miss. After two games with her new career high of six rebounds, Newton again reset the mark with seven boards at Florida to go with four steals and eight points. She followed with five boards, including two offensive, at Mississippi State.

More on March
South Carolina is 53-47 all-time in the month of March. The 1979-80 squad posted the most wins in the month dominated by postseason play with a 7-2 record as that team advanced to the AIAW National Tournament in Mt. Pleasant, Mich. During March, the Gamecocks are 12-11 at home, 15-5 on the road and 26-28 on a neutral court (two games in the Gamecock history book do not include the site of the contest, during which Carolina is 0-2). The Gamecocks will play at least two games in March this season and are 0-1 so far.