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Feb. 25, 2015


South Carolina Game Notes Get Acrobat Reader | Buy Tickets | Promotions | Parking Information

Game Information

Opponent: No. 11/13 Mississippi State (25-4, 10-4 SEC)
Date: Thursday, February 26, 2015 | 7 p.m.
Site: Columbia, S.C.
Arena: Colonial Life Arena (18,000)
Tickets: $7 adult, $4 youth (17 and under)
Broadcast: FSN (Thomas Werme, pxp; Brittany Jackson, analyst); ESPN3 (subject to blackout)
Radio: 1320 The Fan/107.5 The Game (in progress) – Brad Muller;
Live Stats:
Series History: MSU leads 16-14

South Carolina Notables

  • The Gamecocks’ senior class of Olivia Gaines, Elem Ibiam and Aleighsa Welch has been the foundation of South Carolina’s rise as a national power. Built on the arrival of Ibiam and Welch in 2011-12, the Gamecocks have won at least 25 games in each of the last four seasons after only one four-year stretch saw consecutive seasons of 20 wins previously in program history. South Carolina has played in the last three NCAA Tournaments, including two trips to the Sweet 16 (2012, 2014), and earned the program’s first No. 1 seed at the event in 2014. The Gamecocks have spent 27 straight weeks ranked in the AP top 10, highlighted by 12 weeks at No. 1 this season.
  • Senior Olivia Gaines joined the Gamecocks last season after earning WBCA Junior/Community College Player of the Year honors. An explosive offensive player at that level, Gaines adapted to what South Carolina needed and locked in on becoming a defensive stopper. She embraced that role and the spotlight it put on her to perform in tight-game situations, which was never more evident than her final seconds at No. 9/8 Duke earlier this season when her steal set up the game-winning play in the waning seconds of the game.
  • Two-time team captain, senior Elem Ibiam became a dominant defensive presence last season with her school-record 83 blocked shots and adding more offensive presence this season. She is second in career blocks (156), needing 21 to tie the all-time record. Her 67 blocks in SEC action are second in program history, five off Petra Ujhelyi’s record.
  • Senior Aleighsa Welch has been chosen a team captain the last three seasons and has developed a leadership style that adapts to every situation. She has developed her game at the same time, expanding her offensive range each season while not sacrificing her efficiency. Her current .580 career field goal percentage ranks second in program history. Among the program’s top five rebounders all-time, she needs just four offensive boards to match Marsha Williams’ (1990-93) career record of 427. She is one of nine Gamecocks all-time to have amassed at least 1,000 career points and 800 career rebounds. Only three have reached the 900-rebound plateau, from which she is 10 rebounds away.
  • Freshman A’ja Wilson has been on a tear since the Gamecocks’ first loss of the season at UConn. The top player in the 2014 signing class has scored 68 points in just 78 minutes of play in the last four games, averaging 17.0 points on 61.1 percent shooting. She has been especially aggressive going to the basket, averaging 5.8 made free throws per game over the stretch.
  • With a win tonight, South Carolina will tie the school record for home win streak and clinch at least a share of their second-straight SEC regular-season title.


A South Carolina Win Would…

  • Be the Gamecocks’ 32nd straight at home, which would tie the program’s all-time home win streak record, originally set Dec. 10, 1977, through March 4, 1980.
  • Give South Carolina a school-record 15 SEC wins.
  • Clinch at least a share of the SEC regular-season championship and the No. 1 seed in next week’s SEC Tournament, the second in as many seasons for the Gamecocks.

By the Numbers
Game this season in which South Carolina has attempted fewer than 10 free throws (vs. Central Michigan, Dec. 20)
2 Times in as many seasons that the Gamecocks will finish in the top two in the SEC
2 Players who rank among the SEC’s top 15 in points, assists and steals, including junior Tiffany Mitchell
4 Offensive rebounds needed by senior Aleighsa Welch to tie the school career record with 427
7 Of the Gamecocks’ nine primary contributors who have at least one stat better in SEC play than in non-conference action
10.0 Rebounds per game by senior Aleighsa Welch in the seven games against ranked teams this season
10 Home games this season in which the Gamecocks have drawn over 10,000 fans
15 Games in which the Gamecocks have out-rebounded their opponent by 10 or more, including eight in SEC play
21 Career double-doubles each by senior Aleighsa Welch and sophomore Alaina Coates, who are tied for ninth in program history
68 Points scored by freshman A’ja Wilson in the last three games, during which she has played just 78 minutes
79.3 Percent free throw shooting by the Gamecocks over the last four games, after entering the stretch hitting just 65.8 percent
105 South Carolina victories amassed in the last four seasons, including 49 in SEC action
159 Fewer minutes played by Tiffany Mitchell than the SEC’s leading scorer, who has scored just 20 more points than Mitchell in that time

Mississippi State Series History
The Bulldogs lead the series 16-14, but the Gamecocks have won the last five outings, including the last two at Colonial Life Arena. The most recent game was a 71-64 decision in Starkville behind a double-double from Aleighsa Welch as the Gamecock defense held the Bulldogs to just 28.1 percent shooting in the first half. The Gamecocks scored a more commanding 58-43 win over Mississippi State in the last meeting in Columbia on Feb. 24, 2013. Again, it was Welch who did the heavy lifting, posting 20 points and 11 rebounds.

Ranked Readings
South Carolina is facing its eighth ranked opponent of the season tonight with a 6-1 record against such foes, including a 3-0 mark at Colonial Life Arena. The Gamecocks are 71-217 all-time against ranked teams with a 21-40 record in the Dawn Staley era. Under Staley, South Carolina is 8-16 against ranked opponents at Colonial Life Arena, 9-13 on the road and 4-11 at neutral sites.

Home Sweet Home
The Gamecocks are in the midst of unprecedented success at Colonial Life Arena, having won the last 31 games on their home court, including the facility’s first perfect season in 2013-14. That 16-0 mark alone matched the previous record for win streak at the Arena, originally set Jan. 20, 2002-Jan. 9, 2003. South Carolina’s last loss at Colonial Life Arena was a 50-48 decision to then-No. 14 Texas A&M on Feb. 10, 2013. The longest home win streak in school history is 32 games, which spanned three seasons. That streak began with a win over Clemson on Dec. 10, 1977, and ended with a win over Tennessee Tech on March 4, 1980. The stretch included a perfect 11-0 record in 1978-79 at Carolina Coliseum (9-0) and the Sol Blatt P.E. Center (2-0). Overall, South Carolina is 146-58 (.716) at Colonial Life Arena, including an 80-25 (.762) mark under head coach Dawn Staley. In the now 41-year history of the program, the Gamecocks are 391-155 (.716) in home games.

Crowd Control
With over 8,200 season tickets issued, the Gamecocks have enjoyed unprecedented support at Colonial Life Arena this season. South Carolina has led the nation in average attendance (12,347). In fact, the Gamecocks boast five of the top-10 game attendances in the nation this season with Louisville the only other programs with multiple entries (2). South Carolina’s five entries range from the 17,156 for the Kentucky game – second most in Colonial Life Arena history and in the nation this season – to the 13,546 for Texas A&M. South Carolina women’s basketball has logged 14 crowds of over 10,000 fans in Colonial Life Arena history, 13 of which have come in the last three seasons, including 10 this season.

Conference Climbing
The Gamecocks’ 27 games including 14 in SEC play and 13 non-conference outings, and seven of South Carolina’s nine primary contributors have shown marked improvement in at least one statistic from non-conference to SEC action. Two Gamecocks have improved their scoring averages by at least one point per game – Bianca Cuevas (4.5 to 7.3 ppg) and Khadijah Sessions (4.0 to 5.1 ppg). Those two, along with Tina Roy, have improved field goal percentages to thank for the increase with Cuevas going from 35.9 percent to 37.8, Sessions rising from 31.6 percent to 47.3 and Roy improving from 35.3 percent to 46.2The latter two made significant leaps from outside the 3-point line – Sessions (23.1 to 37.5%) and Roy (36.1 to 45.2%). Aleighsa Welch has lifted her rebounding averages from 5.6 to 7.3 rpg). A’ja Wilson and Alaina Coates are blocking more shots per game – 1.3 to 1.7bpg for Wilson and 1.4 to 1.7 for Coates. Tiffany Mitchell rounds out the group, lifting her steals per game from 1.9 to 2.1 in SEC action.

Crunch Time
South Carolina has won all six of its games this season when the margin is under 10 points in the last five minutes, and the Gamecocks have done so with their primary strengths – Tiffany Mitchell, rebounding and defense. In those five games – Southern Cal, vs. #22/22 Syracuse, at #9/8 Duke, #10/11 Kentucky, at Missouri and vs. #6/6 Tennessee – Staley trusts in Mitchell’s competitive spirit, giving her the ball in late-game situations. The junior has answered the bell, averaging 3.4 points per final five minutes of those games – nearly double the next Gamecock on the list. Behind her fearless attacking of the rim, a majority of her points have come at the free throw line, where she has hit 14-of-17 (.824) attempts during those close-game situations. In a show of determination, the Gamecocks have also dominated the glass at crunch time, out-rebounding their opponents 6.6 to 4.8 per final five minutes, with Alaina Coates, A’ja Wilson and Aleighsa Welch grabbing the bulk of the boards. South Carolina’s defense has held those opponents to just 27.0 percent shooting and 9.1 percent from outside the arc in that time span.

SEC Title Talk
In 2013-14, South Carolina became the seventh program to win the SEC regular-season title, and the Gamecocks and were predicted by the league’s coaches and media to the repeat the feat this season. If Staley’s group brings that forecast to fruition, it would be just the fourth team to repeat as the regular-season champion, joining Tennessee (multiple times), Georgia (1996, 1997) and LSU (2005, 2006).

More on Muffin
Senior Aleighsa Welch has been locked in on finishing her career with a bang, and her consistent effort has her ranked among the program’s career top 10 in eight different categories, including three rebounding top-five entries, while also among the top-15 scorers. Among the Gamecocks’ 30 1,000-point scorers, she is one of just nine to amass at least 800 career rebounds as well. At 890 career rebounds, she is just 10 away from becoming just the fourth Gamecock to have 1,000 points and 900 rebounds in her career. Her current career .580 field goal percentage is second in school history behind only Jocelyn Penn’s school-record .593. The expansion of the Gamecocks’ frontline have brought her overall rebounding numbers down slightly (6.6 rpg this season vs. 7.2 average previous three seasons), but she has been especially tenacious on the glass against ranked opponents, averaging 10.0 boards over seven games against ranked foes compared to 4.9 in the Gamecocks’ other 20 outings. Welch also continues to provide consistency on the offensive end, shooting 56.5 percent from the field and handing out 1.9 assists per game.

Trademark TM
Junior guard Tiffany Mitchell remains part of the national player of the year conversation because of her ability to affect the game in myriad ways. Ranked second in the SEC in scoring (15.0 ppg), field goal percentage (.516) and free throw percentage (.814), she is also among the league’s top 15 in assists (14th, 2.8) and steals (9th, 2.0). In fact, only two players rank among the SEC’s top 15 in scoring, assists and steals – Mitchell and Georgia’s Shacobia Barbee. The reigning SEC Player of the Year, Mitchell showed similar diversity last season and added outside shooting to this season’s resume, hitting 45.2 percent from outside the arc. Her heightened accuracy was on full display against San Diego State (Nov. 23) when her 6-of-6 effort from 3 was the best perfect game in program history. She went on to match her career high with six 3s at Hampton as well, those coming on eight attempts.