Feb. 7, 2016
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COLUMBIA, S.C. — The nation’s only two remaining unbeaten teams square off on Mon., Feb. 8, when No. 2/2 South Carolina hosts No. 1/1 UConn at 7 p.m. at Colonial Life Arena. The 7 p.m. game to air on ESPN2 is a rematch of last season’s 1-vs-2 showdown in Storrs, in which it is again the visiting team that totes the nation’s top billing into the contest. The Gamecocks (22-0, 10-0 SEC) are battle tested with nine wins over nationally ranked opponents, including three of their last four and four of their last six. The Huskies (22-0, 12-0 AAC) have topped six ranked opponents this season.
- The Gamecocks have faced the No. 1 team in the AP Poll 12 times in program history dating back to Dec. 9, 1980, with six of those games played in Columbia, including five in Colonial Life Arena. South Carolina, which was also ranked in just three of those outings, is winless in the 12 outings. For the Gamecocks’ four-year seniors, this is the second outing against a No. 1 team, who were freshmen when then-No. 21 South Carolina dropped a four-point decision (49-53) to then-No. 1 Stanford on Dec. 19, 2012, at Colonial Life Arena.
- The focus of the South Carolina offense is undeniably inside as 53.1 percent of the Gamecocks’ offense comes from points in the paint (40.3 ppg). Against ranked opponents, that percentage goes up to 57.2 percent (35.3 ppg).
- Given the volume of weapons at its disposal, South Carolina embraces the game as a marathon, not a sprint, and the numbers bear out the philosophy, especially in SEC action. In league games, the Gamecocks average 41.2 points on 54.0 percent shooting in the second half compared to 31.9 ppg on 39.8 percent in the first half.
- Junior center Alaina Coates has been simply unmanageable for the Gamecocks’ last three opponents, which include a pair of nationally ranked teams. The 6-foot-4 Irmo, S.C., product averaged 17.3 points, 12.3 rebounds, a team-high 3.3 assists and 1.7 blocks over the stretch. She is the nation’s top field goal percentage shooter at .691 and leads the SEC in double-doubles (12) and rebounding (10.0 rpg) to rank 13th and 28th in the nation, respectively.
- Sophomore forward A’ja Wilson continues to shine when the spotlight is brightest, averaging 20.0 points, 10.7 rebounds and 4.2 blocks in the Gamecocks’ nine games against ranked opponents this season.
- Senior guard Tiffany Mitchell has been solid in SEC play this season, ranking among the league’s top 10 in six categories — sixth in scoring (15.1) and steals (2.0 spg), fourth in field goal (.427) and free throw (.427) percentage and 10th in assists (2.8 apg).
- South Carolina leads the nation in free throw attempts per game at 24.1, and that numbers has gotten a boost recently. In the last five games, the Gamecocks have taken 25.4 free throws per game, including 28.0 in the last three games.
- Three out of South Carolina’s last four games have been against nationally ranked opponents, including two top 10s, with the Gamecocks winning those three games by an average of 7.7 points.
- South Carolina has been especially dominant inside the last three games, averaging 43.3 points in the paint.
- In the last three games, South Carolina has assisted on 65.4 percent of its made field goals.
- In the Gamecocks’ last three games that were within single digits in the last five minutes, they went 16-of-20 (.800) from the free throw line.
By the Numbers
2 Gamecocks averaging a double-double in the team’s nine games against ranked opponents this season — A’ja Wilson (20.0 ppg/10.7 rpg) and Alaina Coates (12.3 ppg/10.6 rpg)
4 Double-doubles in the last five games by junior center Alaina Coates, who has an SEC-best 12 this season
8.0 Points per SEC game scored by senior guard Khadijah Sessions, who averaged just 4.9 per league game last season
45 Consecutive wins at Colonial Life Arena for the Gamecocks, the longest active streak in the nation
Connecticut Series Notes
The Huskies have won all three games of the series, but just one has taken place since anyone on either team joined her program — last season’s 87-62 UConn win in Storrs on Feb. 9, 2015. That game saw the Gamecocks’ veterans handle the pressure of carrying the No. 1 ranking into Gampel Pavilion, whose fans were accustomed to seeing the home team hold that title. Then-senior Aleighsa Welch posted a double-double with 17 points and 11 rebounds, including seven offensive, with then-juniors Tiffany Mitchell netting 17 points, including three 3-pointers, and Khadijah Sessions adding eight points. Off the bench, then-freshman A’ja Wilson added 10 points and six rebounds off the bench. The quartet shot 46.7 percent from the field, but he rest of the team managed just 5-of-21 shooting, of which then-sophomore Alaina Coates accounted for 3-of-6 accuracy for six points. The Huskies shot 55.4 percent from the field with four of their five starters reaching double figures, including a pair of 20-point scorers with Breanna Stewart among them.
No. 1 vs. No. 2
Tonight marks South Carolina’s third involvement in a No. 1-vs.-No. 2 women’s basketball game and the second time it has happened in Columbia. In addition to last season’s showdown in Storrs, in which then-No. 2 UConn defeated then-No. 1 South Carolina, the then-No. 2 Gamecocks hosted then-No. 1 Louisiana Tech at Carolina Coliseum on Jan. 8, 1982. The Lady Techsters won 71-58.
Location, Location, Location
South Carolina averages 40.3 points in the paint this season, making up 53.1 percent of the Gamecocks’ offense. No opponent has out-scored South Carolina in the paint this season with the Gamecocks out-pacing their opponents in that space by 18.4 points per game. In nine games against ranked opponents this season, South Carolina has out-scored its foes in the paint by 16.2 points per game. The Gamecocks average 14.2 points in the paint per game more than their SEC opponents. South Carolina’s interior advantage has been at least 20 points in 10 of the team’s 22 games this season, including three games against ranked teams — #6/10 Ohio State (32), #16/18 Arizona State (26) and #15/10 Texas A&M (20). The season-high advantage of 34 points has happened twice — against Arkansas (Jan. 3) and UNCG (Nov. 15).
Call in The Closer
Head coach Dawn Staley and senior guard Tiffany Mitchell share many traits, but their loathe for losing is likely the strongest similarity between the two. And, in the last three seasons, the skipper has called on The Closer to deliver in tough situations — a role that merited back-to-back SEC Player of the Year and All-America status for the Charlotte, N.C., native. While Mitchell ceded the role early in the season as she recovered from injury, the Gamecocks’ star is shining once again under the harshest spotlights. South Carolina has played six tight games this season (within nine points in the final 5:00), tied or trailing at halftime in four of them — at Vanderbilt (Jan. 7), at #9/9 Kentucky (Jan. 14), vs. #15/11 Texas A&M (Jan. 17), at #10/10 Texas A&M (Jan. 31). Mitchell played in the second half of five of those close SEC games (missing the UK game due to first-half injury), leading the team with 11.0 points per second half along with 1.2 assists, 1.4 steals and 2.2 rebounds. That scoring average includes 6.4 points per fourth quarter. In the six first halves, she averaged 6.2 points, 1.2 assists, 0.7 steals and 0.5 rebounds. At Vanderbilt (Jan. 7), eight of Mitchell’s 22 points game in the fourth quarter. At #9/9 Kentucky (Jan. 14),nine of her 16 points came in the second half, including a fourth-quarter tip-in of a missed free throw that helped spark a 12-0 run. At #10/10 Mississippi State (Jan. 24), nine of her 21 points came in the fourth quarter, including five straight to stretch a one-point lead into six and two free throws with :10 to play. At #10/10 Texas A&M (Jan. 31), 18 of her 20 points came in the second half, including seven during 13-2 fourth-quarter run the delivered seven-point lead with 3:38 to play and two more on a pair of free throws in a four-point game with :34 to go.
Another All-Around Contender
Sophomore forward A’ja Wilson rivals her teammate Tiffany Mitchell in comprehensive impact on the game, matching Mitchell’s five stats among the league’s top 10 in SEC play and adding a 12th-place entry in another. And, while Wilson may have joked about aiming to become the SEC Defensive Player of the Year this season, she has been changing the game on both sides of the ball. In SEC play, the 6-foot-5 forward leads the league in field goal percentage (.526) and blocks per game (3.3). Her 9.1 rebounds per game are fourth best, and her team-high 16.0 points per game place her fifth in the league. Hitting 70.2 percent from the free throw line, she is 10th in the conference, and her 2.8 offensive rebounds per game are 12th best. Overall this season, Wilson ranks among the SEC’s top five in scoring (5th, 16.7 ppg), rebounding (3rd, 9.2 rpg), field goal percentage (3rd, .537), blocks (1st, 3.2 bpg) and double-doubles (2nd, 10). She has been the team’s top scorer 10 times, and her 17 double-digit scoring games include six 20-point outings.
The most recent addition to the Gamecocks’ 1,000-point club, junior center Alaina Coates has the size and skill to take over games against any opponent and continues to grow more comfortable in that role. Leading the SEC with 12 double-doubles this season — matching her career high originally set in 2013-14 — she averages a double-double on the season with her SEC-best 10.0 rebounds per game and 12.9 points per outing, which ranks 12th in the league. In league play, she is only player averaging a double-double at 12.4 points and 11.2 rebounds per game. Coates became the 31st member of the 1,000-point club in the first 30 seconds of the win over No. 20/- Missouri (Jan. 10) but just the 13th member to also amass 700 career rebounds — a number she reached against the Tigers as well. With 34 career double-doubles, during which the Gamecocks are 33-1, she is fifth in program history in that category, becoming the first new entry in the top five since Marsha Williams moved into the No. 2 spot in 1992-93 with 44. (The school record of 70 belongs to Sheila Foster, 1979-82.) With three straight double-doubles to open league play, Coates matched and then broke Williams’ school record for double-doubles in SEC action, previously 11 now 16. The SEC’s active leader with 160 career blocks, Coates is third in South Carolina history in the category. She is just 17 shy of Lakesha Tolliver’s (2004-07) career record of 177 and four out of second place (Elem Ibiam, 2012-15).