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March 26, 2017

Game Information

Date: Mon., Mar. 27, 2017

Tipoff: 9 p.m. (ET)

Location: Stockton, Calif.

Arena: Stockton Arena

Tickets: $28 Single Session

Watch On: ESPN (Dave Pasch, play-by-play; LaChina Robinson, analyst; Molly McGrath, sideline)

Broadcast: 107.5 The Game (Brad Muller)

COLUMBIA, S.C. — It’s NCAA Elite Eight action Monday night for No. 3/4 South Carolina as the top-seeded Gamecocks (30-4) take on No. 10/13 Florida State at 9 p.m. ET in Stockton, Calif., with the winner advancing to the Women’s Final Four. It’s a rematch of the 2015 NCAA Elite Eight game in Greensboro, N.C., that delivered South Carolina to its first NCAA Final Four appearance.

South Carolina Notables

  • South Carolina is playing in its third NCAA Elite Eight contest tonight, all coming against ACC schools, including its second-straight against Florida State. In what was then their furthest drive into the tournament, the Gamecocks fell to Duke in the 2002 Elite Eight. In 2015, they reached their first NCAA Final Four with a win over Florida State in Greensboro.
  • Both South Carolina and Florida State rank among the nation’s best offensive teams with the Seminoles ranked 13th and 12th in scoring offense and field goal percentage, respectively, and the Gamecocks coming in 20th and eighth in the categories. South Carolina has the edge defensively, coming in 25th in scoring defense and 16th in field goal percentage defense while Florida State is 44th and 92nd, respectively.
  • The Gamecocks’ nine wins over ranked opponents this season include five over top-10 foes. The Seminoles have two top-10 wins this season.
  • Not one to just pad her numbers, national player of the year candidate A’ja Wilson’s averages against ranked opponents are markedly higher than those against unranked foes. The 6-foot-5 forward who impacts the came in many ways averages 19.5 points vs. ranked teams compared to 17.2 in all other games. Her rebounding average goes to 8.3 from 7.2 and her blocked shots to 3.2 from 2.1.
  • Do-everything guard Allisha Gray’s versatility has made her the team’s top scorer twice, top rebounder four times ââ’¬” including two NCAA Tournament games ââ’¬” and the assist leader seven times.
  • Junior guard Kaela Davis continues to thrive in the postseason, adding 5-of-6 3-point shooting in the Sweet 16 to her high-scoring performances.

By the Numbers

1 3-pointer needed by Kaela Davis to tie the Gamecock record for made 3s in an NCAA Tournament
3 20-point games by Kaela Davis in the Gamecocks’ six postseason contests this season, including the last two
4 Program NCAA Tournament records that the Gamecocks broke or tied against Quinnipiac ââ’¬” points scored (100), fewest points allowed (58, tied), made 3s (10) and 3-point percentage (.625)
4 Games this season in which 6-foot guard Allisha Gray has been the Gamecocks’ top rebounder, including two NCAA Tournament games
7 Games this season in which multiple Gamecocks have scored at least 20 points, including the last two NCAA Tournament outings
10 Games against ranked opponents for the Gamecocks this season, during which they are 9-1

Florida State Series Notes

The Gamecocks are 17-2 all-time against Florida State, but a bulk of those games came during their time shared in the Metro Conference. Dormant for the first 23 seasons the Gamecocks played in the SEC, the series was renewed in the 2015 NCAA Elite Eight.

In that game on Mar. 29, 2015, the Gamecocks turned a three-point halftime deficit into an 80-74 victory in Greensboro, N.C., in front of a partisan South Carolina crowd. The hard fought game featured nine ties and seven lead changes, but Tiffany Mitchell turned a 65-57 deficit with 3:03 to play into a 74-69 lead with 27 seconds on the clock, assisting on the game-tying basket before scoring on a layup, a 3-pointer and a pair of free throws. The Seminoles kept the pressure on with a Adut Bulgak 3-pointer and Leticia Romero layup, but Asia Dozier’s four free throws sealed the win to send South Carolina to its first NCAA Final Four.

All-Around Best of the Best

Junior A’ja Wilson has spent the last two seasons among the finalists for the various national player of the year awards, and she is making her strongest case for the award this season. The two-time SEC Player of the Year can change the complexion of the game on both ends of the floor as a dynamic scorer, rebounder and shot blocker.

Three players appear are among the four finalists for both the Naismith and Wade Trophy ââ’¬” Wilson, Napheesa Collier (UConn) and Kelsey Plum (Washington). If the scoring alone is the test, the contest would appear to be a runaway for Plum, but, presumably, it requires more to be declared the best in the nation.

Wilson and Collier led their teams to both their regular-season and tournament championships, and both have their teams in the NCAA Elite Eight, while Washington reached none of those benchmarks. Collier and Wilson also contribute on the glass, averaging 8.5 and 8.3 rebounds per game, respectively.

Some nuanced offensive stats tell a deeper story as well, measuring by games against ranked opponents to level the playing field as much as possible:

Plyr FG% Min/Pt. Pt/FGA PPG Min/Gm
Wilson .559 1.646 1.54 19.5 32.1
Collier .669 1.540 1.62 20.8 32.1
Plum .484 1.199 1.36 32.9 39.4

In addition to rebounding, Collier and Wilson add another element to their teams ââ’¬” defense in the form of blocks and steals. Here, Wilson shines above Collier, averaging 3.2 blocks and 1.2 steals per game against ranked opponents (combined 4.4) while Collier posts 1.5 blocks and 2.0 steals per such outing (combines 3.5).

In the Driver’s Seat

South Carolina junior guard Kaela Davis exploded into her Gamecock career with a 37-point outing against #7/6 Ohio State and rained in 3-pointers through the first month of the season. Enduring an up-and-down regular season, Davis has thrived in the postseason by relying on the other tools at her disposal ââ’¬” including those outside her renowned scoring abilities.

The 6-foot-2 lithe athlete closed SEC action averaging 11.0 points on 33.9 percent shooting, including 26.8 percent from 3-point range, to go with 3.1 rebounds per game in league play.

With her renewed focus on diversifying her offense, six postseason victories have come in large part because of Davis’ 17.2 points per game on 48.6 percent shooting, including 53.8 percent from 3-point range, and 4.3 rebounds per game. In the three tightest games of that group ââ’¬” SEC semifinal vs. Kentucky and final vs. #6/7 Mississippi State and NCAA second round vs. Arizona State ââ’¬” her scoring exploded to 20.0 points per game on 53.7 percent shooting, including 50.0 percent from 3-point range.

Gray Area

Due to teammate injuries, junior guard Allisha Gray has started five games this season as essentially the Gamecocks’ starting power forward. Undersized only in height, the six-foot guard’s heart and competitive fire made those outings ââ’¬” at LSU, at Texas A&M, vs. Mississippi State, UNC Asheville, Arizona State, vs. Quinnipiac ââ’¬” some of her most productive games of the season. Averaging roughly the same minutes as her season mark (29.2), Gray posted 14.5 points, 7.3 rebounds and 1.0 blocks per game while shooting 63.2 percent in those five games. In fact, against UNC Asheville, she out-scored AND out-rebounded All-America roommate A’ja Wilson.

Trust the Process

While South Carolina entered the season with lofty expectations based on its roster, head coach Dawn Staley knew that it would take time for her team to learn to play its best together. Through all the ups and downs, she encouraged them to trust the process of establishing their strengths and how they best suit the team.

The Gamecocks seem to be rounding into form just in time for a postseason run, both individually and as a unit. The team’s field goal percentage jumped from .466 in 2016 to .476 in SEC play and has skyrocketed to 52.4 percent in the postseason.

Individually, junior forward A’ja Wilson lifted her scoring average from 16.4 points in 2016 to 18.2 in SEC action. She elevated again in the postseason, pouring in 20.3 points per game, including 26 in the SEC Tournament semifinal against #20/24 Kentucky and 24 in the Sweet 16 game against Quinnipiac. Similarly, freshman Tyasha Harris came into her own in 2017. Averaging 4.6 points, 2.2 assists and 20.1 minutes in 2016, she turned in 5.9 points, 3.8 assists and 28.3 minutes per SEC contest. In postseason action, she has posted 4.2 assists per game to go with 52.6 percent shooting in 26.5 minutes per game. The most recent improvement came from junior guard Kaela Davis, who had struggled down the stretch of SEC action, averaging 12.2 points on 36.5 percent shooting, to bounce back with 17.2 points per postseason game on 48.6 percent shooting, including 53.8 percent from 3-point range. Three of her seven 20-point games this season have come in postseason action. For the ever-steady Allisha Gray, her offense has remained the same in the postseason with 12.8 points per game, but she has helped fill the rebounding void left by Alaina Coates, grabbing 6.5 rebounds per game in the postseason compared to her 4.4 rebounding averaging entering the SEC Tournament.

Location, Location, Location

The Gamecocks average 38.6 points in the paint this season, making up 50.0 percent of their offense. Only three opponents have out-scored South Carolina in the paint this season ââ’¬” Duke (42-32, 12/3/16), Tennessee (38-26, 1/20/17) and UConn (34-26, 2/13/17). The Gamecocks are out-pacing their opponents in that space by 14.6 points per game. Their interior advantage has been at least 20 points 13 times, including twice with a season-high 44 ââ’¬” against Maine (Nov. 21) and UNC Asheville (Mar. 17).

Interestingly, the Gamecocks’ paint production increased in the seven games that senior center Alaina Coates has missed with her injury, going from 38.1 points per game to 40.6 per game without her.