Enormous opportunity for Staley’s Gamecocks

Top-ranked Stanford gives USC a chance to measure itselft against the elite

pobley@thestate.comDecember 18, 2012 

University of South Carolina head coach Dawn Staley gives instruction to players as they take on Drexell in the first period at the Colonial Life Arena.

C. ALUKA BERRY — caberry@thestate.com

  • HOOPS DOUBLEHEADER MEN: USC vs. Appalachian State, 5 p.m. Wednesday WOMEN: USC vs. No. 1 Stanford, 7:30 p.m. Wednesday WHERE: Colonial Life Arena TV: Both games on Fox Sports South TICKETS: Men: $18 for lower seats and $15 for upper seats; Women: $7 for adult and $4 for youth (17 and under). Men’s tickets are good for the women’s game. The arena will not be cleared between games.

The coach is calling Wednesday’s game huge. The starting point guard is calling it “gettable.”

Both agree — the No. 21 USC women have an enormous opportunity to get their brand out to the masses Wednesday when they play host to top-ranked Stanford in a rematch of last season’s Sweet 16 showdown.

“I think it’s huge because this game … exemplifies a national game,” Gamecocks coach Dawn Staley said. “Because they are the No. 1 team in the country, everybody is going to watch and see what they’re doing.”

The Cardinal, en route to their fifth consecutive Final Four appearance, ended USC’s season with a 76-60 romp this past March. Stanford held a tremendous advantage in height and Nnemkadi Ogwumike blasted the Gamecocks for 39 points and 10 rebounds.

Ogwumike is gone, but her sister Chiney has proven a capable replacement. She is coming off a 31-point, 13-rebound performance against Pacific as Stanford improved to 9-0 with a 78-43 win.

Beyond the players on the floor is the coach calling the shots. Tara VanDerveer not only is one of the top coaches in college basketball, she also was a mentor to Staley during her time on the U.S. Olympic team.

“Tara, she made me a student of the game,” Staley said. “She made me look at film a little bit differently. She made me practice a little bit differently. … She really is a details person, and I think I brought that to my coaching style.”

It’s VanDerveer’s attention to detail that worries Staley the most.

“Tara is probably like no other when it comes to prepping for a game,” Staley said. “Her team can run our offenses better than we can run our offenses and that’s how she is. She has probably watched all 10 of our games and probably watched our game from last year a number of times and knows where our weaknesses are.”

To combat that, Staley said she is hopeful a raucous crowd fills Colonial Life Arena. Thanks to an unusual twin bill with the men’s team opening against Appalachian State, the opportunity for a large crowd exists.

“We did talk about it with men’s basketball and (men’s coach Frank Martin) was nice enough to allow us to play the second game,” Staley said. “It’s a huge game and I think he understands the magnitude of it.”

Negating Stanford’s height will be the undersized Gamecocks’ primary concern. It is an issue the team has dealt with throughout its 10-0 start with good results. USC is second in the country in rebounding margin, out-rebounding its opponents by an average of 16.4 boards per game.

For the record, that’s better than Stanford’s rebound margin mark (plus-14.6).

“I think what we lack in height we gain in speed, so it’s kind of a cancellation factor for us,” sophomore forward Aleighsa Welch said. “We’re almost at a disadvantage with every game we play. I think it’s going to be big to use our speed and attack the height and just make them get up and down the floor a little bit.”

Senior guard Ieasia Walker said the experience of playing the Cardinal last season has led to a game plan for this matchup that gives the Gamecocks a better shot.

“I think this is a gettable game for us, and our coaches have broken it down and made it gettable for us,” she said.

That plan, as Welch alluded, involves a higher-octane fuel in the offensive engine.

“I felt for us, we didn’t attack more on offense (last season) and that’s what we’ll probably have to do to win this game,” Staley said. “We’ve got to push the ball and play a little more in transition and not put so much pressure on our half-court offense.”

Beyond the Xs and Os, winning against Stanford likely will involve other factors. Most notably: Atmosphere.

“I think it’s probably our biggest game since I’ve been here,” Walker said. “It will measure us against the established programs in the NCAA.”

Said Staley, “I think it’s great for our program. Bring the No. 1 team in here, the excitement of it, the challenge of it, to play against what I consider one of the great basketball minds in Tara VanDerveer?

“This is why you coach,” Staley continued. “This is why players play and I think it’s going to be a tremendous atmosphere.”



WHO: South Carolina (10-0) vs. Stanford (9-0)

WHEN: 7:30 p.m. Wednesday

WHERE: Colonial Life Arena

TV: Fox Sports Carolinas


SERIES: Stanford leads 4-0

COACHES: Dawn Staley (77-58 in five seasons at USC, 249-138 in 13 seasons), Tara VanDerveer (718-149 in 27 seasons at Stanford, 870-200 in 34 seasons)

WHAT TO WATCH FOR: This will be a contrast in styles. The Gamecocks have held eight of 10 opponents to fewer than 50 points and rank second nationally in scoring defense (45.0 ppg.). The Cardinal are 12th in the county in scoring average (78.6 ppg.). ... This is a rematch to last season’s Sweet 16 contest when Stanford ended the Gamecocks’ season, 76-60. It was a five-point game with seven minutes remaining. ... One area the teams have been similar in is rebounding margin. Despite being undersized, South Carolina is second in the country in rebounding margin (plus-16.4). Stanford is seventh in the country at plus-14.6. If USC can match the Cardinal on the glass, that will go a long way towards them keeping things close. ... USC is 0-8 all-time against top-ranked teams. ... Stanford has been to five straight Final Fours and is led by Chiney Ogwumike. ... A USC win would set a new school record for victories to start a season. ... Aleighsa Welch leads the SEC and is 17th nationally with five double-doubles this season. ... The game will start 30 minutes after the men’s game against Appalachian State.

- Chris Dearing



F6-0Ashley Bruner11.0
F6-0Aleighsa Welch11.9
G5-8Ieasia Walker8.6
G5-10Sancheon White6.0
G5-9Tiffany Mitchell11.2


F6-3Mikaela Ruef7.7
F6-4Chiney Ogwumike3.0
F6-3Joslyn Tinkle3.7
G5-11Toni Kokenis16.4
G5-7Amber Orrange5.1

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