NCAA trip for USC women?

February 22, 2012 

South Carolina senior guard Markeshia Grant yells out instructions in the first half of the Gamecocks game against Mississippi State at Colonial Life Arena, Sunday, January 29, 2012.

GERRY MELENDEZ — gmelendez@thestate.com

Despite dropping out of the rankings this week, the USC women’s team’s 20th win should assure the Gamecocks (20-7, 9-5) of their first NCAA tournament bid in nine seasons.

The team is 33rd in the latest RPI rankings from the NCAA.

The latest ESPN bracket projection has South Carolina as a No. 6 seed facing Michigan State in College Station, Texas. In the second round, USC could play defending national champion Texas A&M, whose roster includes former Gamecock center Kelsey Bone.

The Gamecocks still have a pair of league games — Thursday at No. 13 Kentucky and Sunday against Arkansas — before the SEC tournament starts next week in Nashville. South Carolina is the No. 6 seed in the conference and would face No. 11 Mississippi. But much could change. The Gamecocks are among four teams tied at 9-5.

Welch ailing

A key to coach Dawn Staley team’s success this season has been staying healthy. Except for Courtney Newton’s concussion, no player has missed significant time.

But forward Aleighsa Welch will miss Thursday’s game at Kentucky after spraining her right knee in the win at Alabama. She could return Sunday. The 6-foot freshman from Goose Creek has been crucial to the Gamecocks’ post game. Welch leads USC in rebounding (6.1 boards a game) and is third in scoring (8.2 points a contest).

Tops and bottoms

Staley’s crew leads the nation in 3-point defense by allowing 20.8 percent from long-range. No team has hit more than four 3-pointers in a game against USC this year. But South Carolina is last in the country in free-throw shooting, making 58 percent. What the Gamecocks shot from the field on Sunday (a season-high 55.6 percent) nearly matched what they shot from the free-throw line (60.9 percent).

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