It’s no coincidence that Khadijah Sessions is known as “D.”
Bent at the waist, knees at acute angles and arms spread out, the Myrtle Beach native has made life a crucible for opposing guards over the past four years.
“I’m not going to back down from anybody,” Sessions said, also describing her defense as “grimy.” “Coach tries to tell me to get less aggressive sometimes. She calls me a football player on the team.”
Second-ranked South Carolina will need her – and everyone else – to live up to her nickname Monday.
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The biggest game on the Gamecocks’ schedule has finally arrived. Top-ranked Connecticut, like USC a sterling 22-0, comes to Columbia for a nationally televised matchup in front of what will be the biggest crowd to ever watch a women’s game in South Carolina.
On paper, the game is a spot in the polls – the winner will doubtless be No. 1 in next week’s Top 25. It means nothing to each team’s quest to win its conference, lock down a top NCAA Tournament seed and sow the seeds for a Final Four run.
In mind, each team wants this game.
For the Huskies, it’s one more game to prove why they’re the sport’s defining program and to knock down yet another challenger for its throne. For the Gamecocks, it’s a chance to show just how ready they are to take UConn’s place.
“No one could have imagined eight years ago that our program would be right here, the center stage of all of college women’s basketball,” USC coach Dawn Staley said.
USC is here, with a sold-out Colonial Life Arena behind it, anxious to knock off the big, bad Huskies and usher in a new era. They know how hard it will be, Staley not inventing some brand-new gameplan and her players not ratcheting up what they normally do.
The Gamecocks know UConn will score. They’ll try to limit the easy looks the Huskies can get, and score nearly every time they have the ball. Staley’s words were simple during practice – UConn’s going to do what it does. You do what you do, and we’ll be fine.
“You just can’t do one thing, it’s got to be a number of things,” Staley said. “They’re going to score, because that’s what they do. We got to be able to not have empty possessions.”
Sessions will be entrusted with guarding point guard Moriah Jefferson.
“Moriah’s a great player, she’s the No. 1 point guard in my class, always been,” Sessions said. “I’m really going to have to bring my ‘A’ game Monday night.”
That leads to A’ja Wilson guarding two-time National Player of the Year Breanna Stewart.
“A’ja Wilson asked me, ‘How am I supposed to play her?’ ” Staley said. “If I had the secret, I would give it to every other opponent of UConn.”
The Gamecocks will try to work their preferred game of pounding the ball inside and letting Wilson and Alaina Coates score. UConn, as gifted from outside as in (six regulars shoot over 50 percent from the field) will attack from every angle. Staley knows USC won’t shut it down completely, so it’s about equaling every basket and getting a couple of key stops.
It’s likely the teams will face each other again. Staley said that if she had a choice in a guaranteed two-game series this season, she’d take the win in April.
No definite that there will be a game in April.
Might as well get this one.
NO. 1 CONNECTICUT (22-0) at NO. 2 SOUTH CAROLINA (22-0)
When: 7 p.m. Monday
Where: Colonial Life Arena, Columbia
Tickets: Sold out
Connecticut’s probable starters: G Moriah Jefferson 5-7 Sr. (13.5 ppg, 2.6 rpg); G Kia Nurse 6-0 So. (9.6 ppg, 2.0 rpg); G Katie Lou Samuelson 6-3 Fr. (9.5 ppg, 3.2 rpg); F Breanna Stewart 6-4 Sr. (19.4 ppg, 8.2 rpg); F Morgan Tuck 6-2 Sr. (14.2 ppg, 5.8 rpg)
South Carolina’s probable starters: G Khadijah Sessions 5-8 Sr. (6.5 ppg, 2.6 rpg); G Tiffany Mitchell 5-9 Sr. (14.6 ppg, 2.9 rpg); G Tina Roy 5-11 Sr. (6.6 ppg, 1.4 rpg); F A’ja Wilson 6-5 So. (16.7 ppg, 9.2 rpg); C Alaina Coates 6-4 Jr. (12.9 ppg, 10.0 rpg)
Next game: USC hosts No. 22 Florida at 7 p.m. on Thursday.