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Feb. 28, 2015


South Carolina Game Notes Get Acrobat Reader

Coach Staley
Aleighsa Welch & Khadijah Sessions

Game Information

Opponent: No. 13/15 Kentucky (20-8, 9-6 SEC)
Date: Sunday, March 1, 2015 | 5 p.m.
Site: Lexington, Ky.
Arena: Memorial Coliseum (8,000)
Broadcast: ESPN2 (Tiffany Greene, pxp; Gail Goestenkors, analyst); WatchESPN
Radio: 107.5 The Game (Brad Muller);
Live Stats:
Series History: UK leads 32-22

South Carolina Notables

  • South Carolina is in its 41st season of women’s basketball. It is the program’s 24th season in the SEC and the seventh under head coach Dawn Staley. The back-to-back SEC champion has won at least 25 games in each of the last four seasons and played in the last three NCAA Tournaments, including two trips to the Sweet 16 (2012, 2014). The Gamecocks have spent 26 straight weeks ranked in the AP top 10, highlighted by 12 weeks at No. 1 this season.
  • The Gamecocks have proven they can win games in a variety of ways – high or low scoring, inside or outside – because of a consistent defensive effort that wears down opponents. In 11 games this season, South Carolina’s opponent has shot a lower field goal percentage in the second half than the first, including five SEC outings.
  • South Carolina has been a regular at the free throw line this season as the Gamecocks are so often attacking the rim in scoring and rebounding. On the other side of the ball, head coach Dawn Staley’s disciplined approach has kept opponents off the free throw line. The Gamecocks have made 418 free throws this season (14.9 per game) compared to just 254 (9.1) by their opponents, despite shooting roughly the same percentage.
  • Senior forward Aleighsa Welch has spent the last two seasons nurturing the confidence of the Gamecocks’ young talent by sacrificing her own stats for the team victory, but she has also stamped her authority on the biggest games of the year. In 17 games against ranked opponents over the last two seasons, Welch averaged 13.5 points, 9.2 rebounds and 1.6 blocked shots. In the rest of her games, she averaged 10.9 points, 6.3 rebounds and 1.1 blocks.
  • Welch has been steadily climbing the program’s career rebounding charts and is now three offensive boards away from tying the school career record of 427 (Marsha Williams, 1990-93). With 896 total rebounds, she is four shy of becoming just the fourth Gamecock ever to record 1,000 career points and 900 career boards.
  • Junior Tiffany Mitchell is one of two players to rank among the SEC’s top 15 in points (1st, 15.0 ppg), assists (14th, 2.8 apg) and steals (7th, 2.0). Her versatility and ability to deliver in the clutch are what made and have kept her on national player of the year watch lists deep into each of the last two seasons.
  • 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 81 points in just 91 minutes of play in the last five games, averaging 16.2 points. Her scoring efficiency on the season (382 points in 567 minutes) pro rates to 26.9 points per 40 minutes of action.
  • Junior point guard Khadijah Sessions has been a star on both sides of the ball for the Gamecocks lately. Always a steady defender who sets the tone for the team, she has been making a splash offensively, especially in the last six games, during which she has averaged 7.0 points on 50.0 percent shooting, including 53.8 percent from 3-point range. Sessions has handed out 3.5 assists and swiped 2.2 steals per game during the stretch as well. She once again leads the SEC in assist-to-turnover ratio (2.3), ranking 22nd in the nation in the category.


South Carolina Win Would…

  • Give the Gamecocks their second-straight out-right SEC regular-season title.
  • Mark the second 16-0 perfect season in the SEC, matching the 2011 Tennessee team for tops in league history.
  • Be the Gamecocks’ second straight over UK in Lexington, marking just the second time in series history that happened (2/20/02 and 2/2/03).
  • Complete the Gamecocks second regular-season sweep of Kentucky in as many seasons.

By the Numbers
SEC games in which the Gamecocks have been out-rebounded
2 Consecutive SEC regular-season titles (out-right or shared) by the Gamecocks in as many seasons
3 Offensive rebounds needed by senior Aleighsa Welch to tie the school career record with 427
4.0 Assists per game by junior Khadijah Sessions over the last five games, during which she has also scored 6.6 points
5.8 Free throws made per game more by the Gamecocks than their opponents (14.9-9.1)
9.5 Rebounds per game by senior Aleighsa Welch in the seven games against ranked teams this season
11 Home games this season in which the Gamecocks have drawn over 10,000 fans
11 Double-doubles by Alaina Coates this season, including five in league play
13 Games in which the Gamecocks have shot at least 50.0 percent from the field, including seven SEC contests
15 Games in which the Gamecocks have out-rebounded their opponent by 10 or more, including eight in SEC play
15 Games in which South Carolina’s bench has tied or out-scored its starters, including 10 SEC contests
15.5 Second-chance points per game scored by South Carolina, compared to 8.5 for its opponents
16 Games, out of season’s 28, in which junior Tiffany Mitchell has shot at least 50.0 percent
17.3 Points per game more in the paint scored by the Gamecocks than their opponents (39.9-22.6)
21 Career double-doubles each by senior Aleighsa Welch and sophomore Alaina Coates, who are tied for ninth in program history
31 Times this season a Gamecock has played 30 or more minutes in a game, compared to 71 times last season
76.4 Percent free throw shooting by the Gamecocks over the last four games, after entering the stretch hitting just 65.8 percent
81 Points scored by freshman A’ja Wilson in her last 91 minutes on the court (five games)

Kentucky Series History
The Wildcats lead the overall series 32-24 with an 8-6 advantage during South Carolina’s Dawn Staley era. The Gamecocks hold a 4-2 edge over the last three seasons, including the 68-60 win earlier this year (Jan. 11). South Carolina and Kentucky squared off three times last season with the Gamecocks winning both regular-season contests and the Wildcats winning in the SEC Tournament semifinals. The Gamecocks are 6-19 against the Wildcats in Lexington, but claimed the most recent meeting 81-58 behind a dominant game from Aleighsa Welch, who posted 21 points, 10 rebounds and five highlight-reel blocked shots.

Ranked Readings
South Carolina is facing its ninth ranked opponent of the season – third in the last three games – with a 7-1 record against such foes, including a 3-1 mark at on the road. The Gamecocks are 72-217 all-time against ranked teams with a 22-40 record in the Dawn Staley era. Under Staley, South Carolina is 9-16 against ranked opponents at Colonial Life Arena, 9-13 on the road and 4-11 at neutral sites.

Road Warriors
The Gamecocks are 9-1 on the road this season, including seven SEC wins in enemy territory. Overall, South Carolina is 212-241 (.468) in road games, including a 45-32 (.584) record during the Dawn Staley era. After a difficult start as the Gamecocks’ mentor, Staley has guided her team to two of the program’s top five road records in program history, including last season’s school-record winning percentage of .833 (10-2). Her 2012-13 team posted a 7-3 (.700) record on the road for the fourth-best in program history.

SEC Title Talk
In 2013-14, South Carolina became the seventh program to win the SEC regular-season title, and the Gamecocks joined even more elite company by repeating this season. Just four teams have done so, and South Carolina shares the honor with Tennessee (multiple times), Georgia (1996, 1997) and LSU (2005, 2006).

Rare Company
As just the second sophomore ever to earn SEC Player of the Year honors from the league’s coaches last season, junior Tiffany Mitchell was tabbed by the SEC coaches and media to claim the award again this season. If that prediction comes true, Mitchell would become just the seventh player to pick up the award twice in her career, joining South Carolina assistant coach Nikki McCray (1994, 1995) among others. Mitchell would be the second-straight player to do it after Kentucky’s A’dia Mathies completed her double in 2012 and 2013. South Carolina sophomore Alaina Coates has a chance to be in even more rarefied air. She openedher career as the league’s first ever Freshman of the Year to earn another “of the Year” honor last season, taking home Co-6th Player of the Year recognition. Coming off the bench again this season, she could become just the second repeat entry in that award, joining Vanderbilt’s Liz Sherwood (2006, 2007).

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 896 career rebounds, she is just four away from becoming just the fourth Gamecock to have 1,000 points and 900 rebounds in her career. Her current career .581 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 (6.5 rpg this season vs. 7.2 average previous three seasons), but she has been especially tenacious on the glass against ranked opponents, averaging 9.5 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 56.7 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. Leading the SEC in scoring (15.0 ppg), she is second in field goal percentage (.519) and fourth in free throw percentage (.835). Aside from scoring, Mitchell is also among the league’s top 15 in assists (14th, 2.8) and steals (7th, 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.

Hometown Hero
The Class of 2014’s No. 1 recruit out of Heathwood Hall, A’ja Wilson is second on the team in scoring, ranking 11th in the SEC in at 13.6 ppg, and has been the Gamecocks’ top scorer a team-high 12 times. She is the only freshman to rank among the SEC’s top 20 scorers and rebounders – standing 11th and 12th, respectively. Only Mississippi State’s Victoria Vivian (14.9 ppg) out-scores Wilson among SEC freshmen, but has played more than 200 more minutes such that Wilson wins the pro-rated battle at 26.9 to 22.7 points per 40 minutes. Wilson also adds a top-five blocked shots average (1.5) to her resume. Wilson is the only freshman on either the Wooden Late-Season Top 20 or the Naismith Midseason Top 30. She has earned SEC Freshman of the Week five times, tying the league record, and was the USBWA’s first Freshman of the Week (games Dec. 1-7).