South Carolina women’s basketball departed for Nashville, Tenn., on Wednesday, ahead of its SEC tournament opener on Friday, with a lot of uncertainty.
For one, the eighth-ranked Gamecocks don’t know whether they’ll have the services of their star, A’ja Wilson, who is dealing with a case of vertigo. For another, their first-round opponent didn’t become official until late Thursday, when seventh-seeded Tennessee defeated No. 10 seed Auburn 64-61.
But if there’s one thing USC coach Dawn Staley is sure of, it’s that her team needs to do a better job of protecting the basketball, a tall task considering the teams they might face.
South Carolina will face a Lady Vol team that forced 21 turnovers against the Gamecocks in the regular-season finale this past Sunday. That mark is a season-high for USC.
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“If you can’t deliver the ball where it needs to go, or you don’t have the skillset to do that, you’re going to be in a position where it’ll look like Sunday (against Tennessee),” Staley said Wednesday. “But I doubt it. I think we got it out of our system. Maybe we’ll turn it over some, but not to the tune of 21 turnovers.”
Staley has been harping on turnovers since last week, when the Gamecocks turned the ball over 14 times on senior night against LSU, which the Tigers converted into 22 points. That focus didn’t help against UT, who capitalized on South Carolina’s mistakes for 18 points off turnovers, a key factor in the Lady Vols’ strong second half in which they pulled away.
“They tried to speed us up, and I think that’s what helped them in the second half,” sophomore point guard Tyasha Harris said. “In the first half, we were calm, and we let us control the pace, and the second half, they changed it for us.”
USC’s troubles with turnovers have steadily increased as the season has progressed — in nonconference play, the Gamecocks averaged 12.9 turnovers per game. In conference games, that mark has been 13.3, and in the past four games it’s been 16.5.
What: SEC tournament quarterfinals
Who: No. 8 South Carolina (23-6, 12-4 SEC) vs. No. 15 Tennessee (23-6, 11-5 SEC) or Auburn (14-14, 5-11 SEC)
When: 7 p.m. Friday
Where: Bridgestone Arena, Nashville, Tenn.
TV: SEC Network
Radio: 98.5 FM/1320 AM in Columbia; or Sirius 138/XM 190