Women’s pregame: Tired team will not rest on Auburn

After physical win, USC looks to go 4-0 in SEC

dcloninger@thestate.comJanuary 11, 2014 

South Carolina head coach Dawn Staley

JEFF BLAKE — jblake@thestate.com


    WHO: No. 10 USC (15-1, 3-0 SEC) at Auburn (10-5, 1-1)

    WHEN: 2:30 p.m. Sunday

    WHERE: Auburn, Ala.

    TV: SportSouth

    USC’s probable starters: G Tiffany Davis 5-7 RFr. (2.7 ppg, 1.4 rpg); G Asia Dozier 6-0 So. (7.3 ppg, 2.8 rpg); G Tiffany Mitchell 5-9 So. (15.5 ppg, 5.1 rpg); F Aleighsa Welch 6-0 Jr. (13.8 ppg, 7.4 rpg); C Elem Ibiam 6-4 Jr. (10.1 ppg, 6.4 rpg)

    Auburn’s probable starters: G Hasina Muhammad 6-1 Jr. (13.6 pg, 5.5 rpg); G Brandy Montgomery 5-10 Fr. (11.1 ppg, 3.1 rpg); G Kiani Parker 5-9 Jr. (2.8 ppg, 2.2 rpg); G/F Tyrese Tanner 6-1 Sr. (16.6 ppg, 6.7 rpg); F Tra’Cee Tanner 6-3 So. (9.8 ppg, 5.9 rpg)

    Next game: USC plays at Texas A&M at 8 p.m. on Thursday.

There weren’t any giddy expressions or timeouts to show off the new dance step. South Carolina’s beaten big opponents over the past three seasons, and with Dawn Staley’s 24-hour rule firmly in place, Friday’s practice was not an opportunity to keep celebrating Thursday’s win against No. 9 Kentucky.

There were two reasons. One, as good as it is for the No. 10 Gamecocks to look at their 3-0 SEC record and tie for first place, there are 13 SEC games to go. Records can go from great to awful in a heartbeat.

The second — USC was still feeling the effects from playing a physical Kentucky team and didn’t feel like cutting up when it needed energy to stay on its feet.

“They were a little banged-up,” Staley said. “We wanted to come in and just make sure that it was more of a mental day. Physically, they were tired. I think we got back in the gym and got them re-focused on the task at hand, which is Auburn.”

The Gamecocks (15-1, 3-0) are a young team but a team with a few veterans that know how tough it is to play SEC basketball every three days or so. Running, pushing, shoving and colliding with a team as strong as the Wildcats took its toll on USC, but the Auburn game Sunday wasn’t going to wait — it was be ready or be prepared to lose.

USC got its legs back under it and left on Friday night for the Plains, Staley hoping that a night trip and hotel stay would have the Gamecocks rested for a practice/shootaround in Auburn Arena on Saturday and the game Sunday. The Tigers were one of the most improved teams in the SEC last year, their first under coach Terri Williams-Flournoy, and while they are 10-5 this year, their personnel and the series history had Staley apprehensive.

USC held on to win 59-51 in Columbia last year and lost at Auburn 53-49 the year before. The teams have split the past four meetings, USC winning its two at home. The Tigers have one player above 6-foot-1, but each seems to have an extra set of arms.

“They have a whole lot of length, and they make you pass the ball,” Staley said. “They engage you in making looping passes and they use their athleticism to put a lot of pressure on you. They make your offense think. For us, having young point guards, they’ll force them to think a lot more than usual.”

The Kentucky game saw Khadijah Sessions back on the court, and she played well despite a lengthy layoff. While Tiffany Davis will continue to start at the point, having Sessions makes USC better. She has seen a lot of the competition first-hand and knows how to beat it.

“Missing out on five games was a big, big miss,” Sessions said. “Just trying to work back into playing the game.”

Some of the things that worked against Kentucky and Vanderbilt — rainbow passes across the court in a set offense, more rainbow passes downcourt on the break — won’t work against Auburn. USC will have to be crisp and precise for 40 minutes.

The previous game won’t have a mental residue. The Gamecocks know what a big-game hangover can do.

“Like coach said, we got to turn the page,” sophomore Asia Dozier said. “We enjoyed the win (Thursday) night, but we’re treating it just like a loss. Keep things moving.”

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