Gamecocks playing best basketball of the season, ready for SEC tournament
What: SEC tournament quarterfinals
Who: No. 12 South Carolina (21-8, 13-3 SEC) vs. Georgia (18-11, 9-7) OR Arkansas (17-13, 6-10)
When: 6 p.m. Friday, March 8
Where: Bon Secours Wellness Arena, Greenville, South Carolina
Watch: SEC Network
Radio: 107.5 FM in Columbia area
No pressure: One might think winning four consecutive SEC tournament championships would put a lot of pressure on South Carolina to defend its title this week in Greenville — but coach Dawn Staley says that’s not the case.
“There’s no pressure on us. There wasn’t any pressure on us last year, because I don’t think anybody thinks we’re the favorite going down there. So there’s no pressure,” Staley said.
And she has a point — all three of ESPN’s experts picked No. 1 seed Mississippi State to win the tournament. Things might have been different had the Gamecocks managed to upset the Bulldogs in the regular season finale, but the team has put that missed chance behind them and is in a good place right now, senior forward and captain Alexis Jennings said.
“We have really great energy right now. Everybody’s just in a positive, good mood, even after the loss. We’re just taking (the loss) with a grain of salt and moving on, game by game.”
Scouting two teams: The No. 2 seed Gamecocks will face the winner of No. 7 Georgia-No. 10 Arkansas, which tips off Friday evening. Accordingly, Staley has had to prep her players for two teams — both of whom hung around until the fourth quarter against Carolina in the regular season, but did so with different personnel and styles.
“We try to find common ground, and common ground for both those teams is a lot of ball screen action. Obviously Arkansas gave us some issues with their smaller lineup so we had to work a little bit of that, and then worked a little bit of high-low action with Georgia,” Staley said.
Arkansas, led by All-SEC guard Chelsea Dungee, plays fast and takes lots of 3-pointers with a smaller lineup. When USC faced the Razorbacks the first time, Staley went with a four-guard lineup to match them, and she said she may do so again.
Georgia, led by All-SEC forward Caliya Robinson, is a more methodical, defensive team that mainly gets its offense inside the arc. Stopping Robinson would be good prep for a potential rematch with Mississippi State’s star center, Teaira McCowan.
“She’s a pretty tough competitor,” Jennings said of Robinson. “We just have to make sure to be physical and try to get to her out of her comfort zone a little bit and play her straight up.”
Win one for Nelly: The only non-freshman without a ring on South Carolina’s roster is graduate transfer Nelly Perry. Getting her a championship is important for Staley, especially considering her attitude and effort throughout a sometimes frustrating season.
“Although the year probably wasn’t what she had planned as far as playing time and being able to make a better impact on our team, I’d like for her to leave with some hardware,” Staley said.
SEC TOURNAMENT SCHEDULE
Wednesday, March 6 — First Round
Game 1: No. 13 Florida 64, No. 12 Ole Miss 57
Game 2: No. 11 Alabama 74, No. 14 Vanderbilt 57
Thursday, March 7 — Second Round
Game 3: No. 8 Tennessee 69, No. 9 LSU, 66
Game 4: No. 5 Missouri 87, No. 13 Florida 56
Game 5: No. 10 Arkansas 86, No. 7 Georgia 76
Game 6: No. 6 Auburn 53, No. 11 Alabama 52
Friday, March 8 — Quarterfinals
Game 7: No. 1 Mississippi State 83, No. 8 Tennessee 68
Game 8: No. 5 Missouri 70, No. 4 Kentucky 68 (OT)
Game 9: No. 2 South Carolina vs. No. 10 Arkansas, 6 p.m., SEC Network
Game 10: No. 3 Texas A&M vs. No. 6 Auburn , 8:30 p.m., SEC Network
Saturday, March 9 — Semifinals
Game 11: No. 1 Mississppi State vs. No. 5 Missouri, 5 p.m., ESPNU
Game 12: Game 9 winner vs. Game 10 winner, 7:30 p.m., ESPNU
Sunday, March 10 — Finals
Game 13: Game 11 winner vs. Game 12 winner, 2 p.m., ESPN2