Top-15 Test at Mississippi State Thursday
COLUMBIA, S.C. – #15/20 South Carolina women’s basketball travels to rival #7/6 Mississippi State for a Thursday night battle of SEC unbeaten teams at 7 p.m. (ET) on ESPN. The Gamecocks (12-4, 4-0 SEC) have won eight straight with a defense that has locked in and a balanced offense. The Bulldogs (16-1, 4-0 SEC) will be the fourth top-10 opponent South Carolina has faced this season and its first such test in a true road environment.
SOUTH CAROLINA NOTABLES
• Tonight’s game pits two of the most accomplished women’s basketball programs of the last four years against each other. Evaluating based on conference championships and NCAA Tournament success during that window, South Carolina comes in third, behind UConn and Notre Dame, with three SEC regular-season titles, four Sweet 16s, three Elite Eights, two Final Fours and one National Championship. Mississippi State takes fourth in the standings with one SEC title, four NCAA Tournament appearances, two Final Fours and two title game appearances. The Gamecocks and Bulldogs have also squared off in the last three SEC Tournament championships, which have all gone to South Carolina.
• Tonight’s edition of this storied series comes as the Gamecocks and Bulldogs are locked atop the SEC standings at 4-0. The one who stays undefeated in league play will be the one most able to impose its will with South Carolina putting a statistically stronger defense on the floor and Mississippi State’s offensive numbers standing out. In league play, South Carolina leads the SEC in scoring defense (52.2 ppg) while Mississippi State paces the conference in scoring (86.0 ppg). The Gamecocks are first in field goal percentage defense (.310), and the Bulldogs are second in field goal percentage (.470). Each team has enough on the other side to rank first and second in the league in scoring margin – Mississippi State at +18.5 and South Carolina at +15.0.
• According to head coach Dawn Staley, junior guard Tyasha Harris is playing some of her best basketball right now. Seventh in the SEC with 4.3 assists per game, she is scoring 9.6 points per game as well. Between the two, Harris has her mark on 20.3 points per game for the Gamecocks.
• South Carolina excelled at the inside-out offensive philosophy in last week’s commanding victories. Bianca Cuevas-Moore led the team with 12.5 points per game, shooting 72.7 percent from the field, including 62.5 percent from 3-point range. Senior Alexis Jennings posted 11.5 points per game on 62.5 percent shooting to go with 7.5 rebounds per game.
• The Gamecock bench has been among the most productive in the SEC this season, outscoring its opponent’s bench by 11.3 points per game, the highest margin in the league.
BY THE NUMBERS
+8.0 Rebounding margin in SEC play after entering conference play at +2.8
11 Gamecocks who have scored in double figures at least once this season
12.8 Average AP ranking of the four teams to which the Gamecocks have lost this season
42.5 Percent shooting by the Gamecocks in SEC play
MISSISSIPPI STATE SERIES NOTES
South Carolina leads the series 21-17 after winning 12 of the last 13 meetings, including all four championship game matchups.
Both teams have been ranked in the top 20 in each of the last eight meetings, with the higher ranked team winning six of the eight contests. All eight of those matchups have been defensive battles with neither team reaching 70 points during that stretch and one Gamecock victory in which neither team hit 60. Over that stretch, the Gamecocks averaged 62.1 points while allowing just 54.5 points per game.
The teams split their two meetings last season with the Bulldogs claiming a 67-53 decision at Humphrey Coliseum, and the Gamecocks responding with a 62-51 win in the SEC Tournament title game. Mississippi State used a defensively dominant fourth-quarter to overcome a four-point deficit in the final 10 minutes as the Gamecocks shot just 3-of-15 from the field. In the SEC Tournament, Tyasha Harris’ perfect shooting fourth quarter (eight points) and a 13-5 rebounding edge in that period turned back a second-half Bulldog run.
With an 1-3 mark so far season, South Carolina is 60-55 against nationally ranked opponents under head coach Dawn Staley, although that record is skewed by the early seasons of her tenure.
The Gamecocks are 45-16 versus ranked foes since the start of the 2014-15 campaign. South Carolina is 18-12 against top-10 opponents during that time.
Senior forward Alexis Jennings has been especially effective against ranked foes, averaging 9.5 points and 8.8 rebounds in her four games against such opponents this season. Junior guard Te’a Cooper is the leading scorer in the Gamecocks’ four games against ranked opponents with 18.3 points per game to go with a team-high 2.1 assists per game.
Junior Tyasha Harris is a proven multi-threat point guard, which has earned her spots on the Naismith Trophy, Wade Trophy and Nancy Lieberman Award watch lists. SEC coaches also tapped her for Preseason First-Team All-SEC recognition.
After taking the on-court reins of the Gamecocks midway through her freshman year and guiding the team to the 2017 National Championship, Harris nearly doubled both her assist and scoring output in her sophomore campaign (10.4 ppg, 6.1 apg), playing just seven more minutes per game than the season before.
Harris continues adapt this season in the faster paced offense that doesn’t always start with the ball in her hands. Still, she leads the team and ranks seventh in the SEC in assists with 4.3 per game while scoring 9.6 points per game, which ranks third on the team. Her 2.7 assist-to-turnover ratio is fourth in the league.
Harris has scored in double figures 33 times in her career, including eight games this season, and has handed out five or more assists in 42 of her 89 career games, including eight so far this season.
Harris finished the 2017-18 season with six double-doubles, the most by any Gamecock in a single season She trails just Cristina Ciocan’s nine career points-assists double-doubles in program history.
Senior forward Alexis Jennings has found her place in the spotlight of the frontcourt this season after last season’s effort earned her 2018-19 preseason accolades – Katrina McClain Award Watch List, Preseason All-SEC.
After missing the season opener and playing restricted minutes early as she recovered from an injury, Jennings announced her physical return with a 12-point, 14-rebound game against #9/8 Oregon State (Nov. 23). She has scored in double figures seven times in the 10 games since then.
On the season, Jennings is second on the team with 9.9 points per game to go with her team-high 5.7 rebounds per game. In four games against ranked opponents, she has posted 9.5 points and 8.8 rebounds per outing.
Including her two seasons at Kentucky, Jennings ranks fifth among active SEC players in career double-doubles (14), comes in fourth in rebounds (687) and is 10th in points (1,156).