There was no moping or pouting. Second-ranked South Carolina returned from its first loss of the season by practicing the same way it has all season. The Gamecocks picked up the pieces, didn’t feel sorry for themselves and realized that while losing to No. 1 Connecticut stung, there’s a lot left on the table – such as a third straight SEC championship.
They’re back on the trail on Thursday, as No. 16 Florida (19-4, 7-3 SEC) visits. Win this one and take out No. 25 Tennessee on Monday and USC (22-1, 10-0) can start stitching the banner.
That’s a lot easier said than done, especially since the Gamecocks are dealing with a number of injuries.
Asia Dozier (right hand) continued to sit out Wednesday and will miss her third straight game. Tiffany Mitchell’s back is OK, but she wasn’t as aggressive driving the lane against Connecticut as she has been (although Dawn Staley thought that was a residual effect of being called for charging against Kentucky). A’ja Wilson still had a swath of bandages covering her lower left leg from a knock against the Huskies, but said she’s fine. Jatarie White missed Wednesday’s practice because of illness and is wait-and-see for the Florida game.
It’s going to be a thin bench against the Gators. But better that than anybody still kicking themselves over UConn.
“Yeah, UConn’s a big game, but it’s just a regular-season game,” Wilson said. “Our goals are still on the table.”
One of the biggest is winning the SEC, when only two other programs have won three or more consecutive championships.With a three-game lead in the standings with six to play, USC’s in the pole position.
It also wants to do what it didn’t last year – go undefeated in the SEC. There have been several teams to go unbeaten, but only one (Tennessee) has gone 16-0, the mark the Gamecocks missed by a game last year.
USC will have to handle Florida, resurgent after Amanda Butler reworked her coaching staff and found some talent in the JUCO ranks and from abroad. The Gators have the highest-scoring offense in the SEC, one spot above the Gamecocks.
One player the Gamecocks could look to utilize is Sarah Imovbioh. The senior unexpectedly contributed 13 points against the Huskies, playing more aggressively than in the past 22 games. If Imovbioh can supply that against Florida, Wilson, Alaina Coates and White can rest and USC won’t skip many beats.
“They’re ready,” Staley said. “I think our team understands the bigger picture, in winning the SEC. They don’t take losing well, but at the same time, put things in perspective and move on.”
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Gators vs. Gamecocks
Who: No. 16 Florida (19-4, 7-3 SEC) at No. 2 USC (22-1, 10-0)
When: 7 p.m. Thursday
Where: Colonial Life Arena
TV: SEC Network Plus
Tickets: Available at the box office
Florida’s probable starters: G Carlie Needles 5-6 Sr. (6.8 ppg, 2.2 rpg); G Simone Westbrook 5-8 Jr. (8.7 ppg, 3.1 rpg); G/F Ronni Williams 6-0 Jr. (11.0 ppg, 7.6 rpg); G/F Eleanna Christinaki 6-0 Fr. (10.7 ppg, 3.3 rpg); F Haley Lorenzen 6-3 So. (9.6 ppg, 5.6 rpg)
South Carolina’s probable starters: G Khadijah Sessions 5-8 Sr. (6.4 ppg, 2.6 rpg); G Tiffany Mitchell 5-9 Sr. (14.5 ppg, 3.0 rpg); G Tina Roy 5-11 Sr. (6.3 ppg, 1.4 rpg); F A’ja Wilson 6-5 So. (16.5 ppg, 9.0 rpg); C Alaina Coates 6-4 Jr. (12.4 ppg, 10.0 rpg)
Next game: USC tips off at No. 25 Tennessee at 7 p.m. on Monday.