Jan. 2, 2016
COLUMBIA, S.C. — No. 2/2 South Carolina kicks off its SEC title defense on Sun., Jan. 3, at 3 p.m. when Arkansas visits Colonial Life Arena for the league opener for both teams. The Gamecocks (12-0) are undefeated entering conference play for the second-straight season. South Carolina’s offense has surged recently, averaging 84.5 points over the last four games on 49.4 percent field goal shooting. Junior center Alaina Coates has been dominant in the post throughout the season, overwhelming opponents with her efficiency, ranking third in the nation with a .673 field goal percentage. Arkansas’ Jessica Jackson drives the offense with 17.4 points per game and leads the Razorbacks on the glass with 7.6 rebounds per game.
- South Carolina opens defense of its SEC regular-season championship for the second-straight season tonight, taking on the Arkansas Razorbacks in the league opener for the second time in three seasons.
- The Gamecocks have posted a higher field goal percentage than their opponent in every game, and no team has out-scored them in the paint. Just one team has out-rebounded South Carolina (Hawaii, 33-30, Nov. 29).
- South Carolina has won nine of its 12 games this season by double digits, including five games decided by 20 or more points.
- The Gamecocks lead the nation in average attendance at 14,341 fans per game. Six of the top-10 attended games in the nation this season have been at Colonial Life Arena. In the calendar year 2015, fans reset nine of the top 10 attended games at Colonial Life Arena, missing only the facility’s women’s basketball record 17,712.
- South Carolina’s starting frontcourt of junior Alaina Coates and sophomore A’ja Wilson are two of the top three rebounders in the SEC
- Senior guard Tiffany Mitchell has also more consistently shown her two-time All-America form in the last four outings. Her 16.3 points per game in that time came on 46.5 percent shooting, including 47.6 percent from 3-point range. Prior to that, she averaged 13.1 points on 38.4 percent shooting with 31.6 percent from 3-point range.
By the Numbers
3.2 Points per game more senior guard Tiffany Mitchell averaged over the last four games than her first eight this season
6 Games in which junior center Alaina Coates has shot over 70.0 percent from the field
25 Points needed by junior center Alaina Coates to reach 1,000 in her career
40 Consecutive home games won by the Gamecocks, the longest active streak in the nation
62 Consecutive AP Top 25 Polls in which the Gamecocks have appeared, tying the school record
75.3 Percent free throw shooting by South Carolina over the last four games
Arkansas Series Notes
The Razorbacks lead the series 17-14, but the Gamecocks have won seven of the last eight, including a current six-game win streak. South Carolina won both meetings in 2014-15. In the regular-season matchup on Feb. 19, South Carolina used a late first-half run and its size to wear down Arkansas in a 73-56 win at Bud Walton Arena. Mitchell led four Gamecocks in double figures as the team shot 52.1 percent from the field. In the SEC Tournament quarterfinals, South Carolina used lock-down defense to establish a 31-17 halftime lead en route to a 58-36 victory. The Razorbacks shot 19.3 percent from the field in the game.
SEC Title Talk
The media and league coaches picked the Gamecocks to repeat s SEC champions this season. After winning its first SEC regular-season championship in 2013-14, South Carolina shared the title last season. If the prediction holds, the Gamecocks would become just the third team to win three straight regular-season championships in league history, joining Tennessee (2000-2004, 1993-1995) and Auburn (1987-89)
Head coach Dawn Staley has steadily lifted the Gamecocks’ national profile by building the Gamecocks into a consistent SEC contender with back-to-back regular-season titles, shirking decades of difficulty in the nation’s best women’s basketball conference. In her eighth season at the helm, Staley boasts a 67-43 (.609) SEC regular-season record and has finished outside the league’s top five just twice — an unprecedented achievement for a program that had finished INSIDE the top five only two times in the previous 17 seasons. Staley’s 67 wins include four seasons of double-digit league victories — 10-6 in 2012, 11-5 in 2013, an SEC-best 14-2 in 2014 and 15-1 in 2015. Staley’s SEC regular-season record includes a 38-18 (.679) mark at home and a 29-25 (.537) slate on the road.
As just the second sophomore ever to earn SEC Player of the Year honors from the league’s coaches last season, Tiffany Mitchell became the seventh player to pick up the award twice when the coaches and media both picked her for the award in 2015. Both groups predicted her to win the title again in 2016, which, if it comes to fruition, would make her the league’s first three-time Player of the Year.
The Gamecocks have played three games decided by single-digit points this season, two of which they trailed at halftime but came back to win. In those outings, offense has made the difference with the Gamecocks shooting 52.0 percent from the field in the fourth quarters of those three games. Of these three opponents, only Arizona State out-shot South Carolina in the fourth quarter (.353-.313) with the Gamecocks making up the difference at the free throw line and on the glass in the waning moments of the contest. Overall, South Carolina shoots much better in the second half (49.3 percent) than the first (44.1 percent) as opposing defenses begin to feel the effects of the Gamecocks’ frontcourt and pace of play. The buildup of offensive efficiency is steady throughout the game with South Carolina hitting 42.0 percent from the field in the first quarter, 48.2 percent in the second, 48.1 in the third and 50.6 percent in the fourth. Just nine of the 23 quarters in which the Gamecocks have shot at least 50 percent have come in the first half.
USA Basketball honored two Gamecocks for their contributions to the Americans’ medal count in 2015. Head coach Dawn Staley became the first person to earn Athlete of the Year and Coach of the Year honors from USA Basketball, sharing the 2015 coaching award with Sean Miller. Sophomore forward A’ja Wilson earned USA Basketball Female Athlete of the Year honors for her MVP effort at the FIBA U19 Women’s World Championship. Two other Gamecocks also represented USA Basketball last summer. Senior Tiffany Mitchell and junior Alaina Coates on the U.S. Pan Am Games silver medal team.
SEC Active Leaders
The SEC compiled its active leaders in seven statistical categories this week, and five different Gamecocks are among the top 10 in at least one category. Senior Tiffany Mitchell’s league-high six entries is not a surprise given the breadth of her resume, but the appearance of sophomore A’ja Wilson at No. 4 on the active blocked shots list, which junior Alaina Coates leads, may catch some observers off guard. Mitchell headlines the South Carolina entries ranking second in scoring (1,534); third in steals (189), field goals made (514) and 3-pointers made (141); fourth in assists (293) and eighth in rebounding (513). She is the highest-ranking guard on the rebounding list, which includes just two other true perimeter players. Coates is the league’s active leader in blocks (151), sits third in rebounds (678) and ninth in scoring (975). She also has a current SEC-high 27 career double-doubles, including five this season. Senior Khadijah Sessions holds seventh in steals (140) and eighth in assists (252). Senior Tina Roy is on the 3-pointers made list, coming in at seventh (116).