NCAA tournament: USC women have late-night hunger

ashain@thestate.comMarch 24, 2012 

Coach Dawn Staley reacts to a call during the second half of action against Georgia Thursday night at the Colonial Life Arena. Georgia won, 61-59.

TRACY GLANTZ — tglantz@thestate.com

— The South Carolina women’s basketball team should be used to playing late games these days.

The No. 25 Gamecocks has an 11:30 p.m. Eastern time tip-off against second-ranked Stanford in the NCAA tournament Sweet 16 in Fresno’s Save Mart Arena.

This follows a pair of consecutive 10 p.m. starts in Nashville at the beginning of the month in the SEC tournament in Nashville.

Late-night starts have worked for the Gamecocks so far: They won both of those games over Alabama and Georgia.

Adjusting to one-hour time shift in Tennessee was something the team had done during the season, but South Carolina has had to shift quickly to the three-hour difference in California.

The team arrived from Columbia late Thursday evening Eastern time and practiced on the Fresno State campus that night. They had study hall and practiced again at about 7:30 p.m. Eastern time at the arena.

Then South Carolina followed with its good-luck road routine of going to a movie (4-0 so far) -- but with a twist.

They had dinner first and then went to a late showing of “The Hunger Games” designed to keep them up past midnight Eastern. Some players and head coach Dawn Staley tweeted they fell asleep during part of the movie.

That might not be a problem. A little extra rest is the key to adjusting to later game starts, Staley said.

“That will be the trick,” she said. “I think the key is making sure their ready before our pre-game routine.”

The Gamecocks also have to deal yet another de-facto home game for an opponent on a neutral site. Stanford’s campus is just three hours away from Fresno.

In the SEC tournament, South Carolina played Tennessee in a semifinal game in Bridgestone Arena where the crowd looked as orange as it would as a game in Thompson-Boling Arena in Knoxville, three hours to the east. The Gamecocks, playing on their third consecutive night, hung close in the first half but lost to the Volunteers 74-58.

In the NCAA tournament’s second-round, the Gamecocks played Purdue on its homecourt, Mackey Arena in West Lafayette, Ind.

Facing thousands of Boilermaker fans in a gym that felt more like a sauna from an unusually warm week in the Midwest, South Carolina beat the nation’s 13th-ranked team 72-61 to go to its first Sweet 16 in a decade and Staley’s first game ever outside the NCAA second round as a coach.

That underdog approach has suited the Gamecocks this season as they have improved from 10 to 25 wins over the past four seasons.

“I embrace it,” USC guard Ieasia Walker said. “We may look like underdogs, but we come in with a lot of confidence. I think we perform well in that setting.”

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