Women’s pregame: USC hopes for payback after loss to Missouri last season

dcloninger@thestate.comFebruary 1, 2014 

Coach Dawn Staley

TRACY GLANTZ — Tracy Glantz

  • TIGERS AT GAMECOCKS

    WHO: Missouri (14-7, 3-5 SEC) at South Carolina (19-2, 7-1)

    WHEN: 3 p.m. Sunday

    Where: Colonial Life Arena, Columbia

    Missouri’s probable starters: G Morgan Stock 6-1 So. (8.0 ppg, 2.2 rpg); G Morgan Eye 5-9 Jr. (11.7 ppg, 3.7 rpg); G/F Jordan Frericks 6-1 Fr. (8.3 ppg, 7.8 rpg); F Bri Kulas 6-1 Sr. (18.6 ppg, 6.8 rpg); F Lianna Doty 5-7 So. (5.8 ppg, 3.3 rpg)

    USC’s probable starters: G Khadijah Sessions 5-8 So. (7.3 ppg, 1.4 rpg); G Tiffany Mitchell 5-9 So. (15.3 ppg, 5.1 rpg); G Asia Dozier 6-0 So. (7.2 ppg, 2.9 rpg); F Aleighsa Welch 6-0 Jr. (13.5 ppg, 7.6 rpg); C Elem Ibiam 6-4 Jr. (10.1 ppg, 6.8 rpg)

    NEXT: USC tips off at Miss. State at 8 p.m. Thursday

A year later, expansion still is affecting the game.

Even cruising along at 19-2 and 7-1 in the SEC, seventh-ranked South Carolina relentlessly breaks down film on its opponents. Most of the teams the Gamecocks face in SEC play have tendencies that the staff knows and can try to exploit.

Missouri, which is in Columbia on Sunday, still is unfamiliar. The Gamecocks know about them, having played and lost 65-58 to the Tigers at Missouri last season.

But they still don’t know everything about the Tigers — except that they’re a handful on offense and a lot better than their 3-5 SEC record suggests.

“I think the style of play is really a lot different than we’re used to,” coach Dawn Staley said Friday. “Untraditional, they rely heavily on the 3-point shot, and they got a lot of players that can spread you out.

“Last year, I thought we took them lightly. As much as we tried to tell our team last year what kind of game it was going to be, we just didn’t make the adjustment.”

USC still had a chance to win last year, but a couple of missed late free throws proved costly. The defeat cost the Gamecocks a top-four finish in the SEC as Texas A&M won the fourth and final top seed with a tiebreaker.

This year, USC again is searching for a top-four finish and more, being tied for first place with eight games to play. The Gamecocks get this one at home and are expecting another sizable crowd — complete with neon-green T-shirts, which may add another dimension to an unforgiving road atmosphere — but know that Missouri, especially fresh off an upset of No. 16 Vanderbilt, won’t be a pushover.

Forward Bri Kulas is second in the conference with 18.6 points per game. The appropriately named Morgan Eye is leading the SEC in 3-point percentage, hitting over 40 percent of her tries.

Kulas scored 26 points against the Gamecocks last year. In a preseason interview, point guard Khadijah Sessions labeled Kulas as the best player she faced last season. “I couldn’t do anything with her,” Sessions said. “You blinked and she was gone.”

Missouri doesn’t predictably behave. The Gamecocks may have to win on straight talent instead of game plan.

“You really can’t cheat off anybody in their offense,” Staley said. “Our man-to-man defense is going to be put into question.”

The loss last year still resonates.

“As you can see last year, they got us with it. They kind of had their way with us. We’ve been reminded of that,” forward Aleighsa Welch said. “That 19-2 start can go down the drain from there if you get too ahead of yourself.”

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