No. 5 South Carolina (16-1, 6-0 SEC) hosts No. 4 Mississippi State (20-0, 6-0) at 7 p.m. Monday at Colonial Life Arena. First place in the SEC is on the line. Here are five reasons each team will come out on top in this national showdown:
WHY SOUTH CAROLINA WILL WIN
1. COME ON IN
Mississippi State has height and Mississippi State has forwards that can score, but they – like everybody else – don’t have a post duo like Alaina Coates and A’ja Wilson. Wilson’s versatility with the mid-range shot and the pair’s ability to run the high-low to each other makes them nearly impossible to defend.
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After some games where she’s struggled to find her shots, Kaela Davis sees what she saw against Ohio State and Auburn. The Bulldogs, hoping to get USC into a game where they can run back and forth and flaunt their weapons, are undone by Davis’ shooting.
3. YOU TAKE HER, NO, I GOT HER
When all of the Gamecocks’ offensive weapons are firing, opponents don’t know who to try and limit. USC likes to emphasize the post game, but if Davis, Allisha Gray, Tyasha Harris and Bianca Cuevas-Moore are hitting their shots, a defense becomes obsolete.
4. BEEN HERE BEFORE
As good as Mississippi State is, only one of its 20 wins has been against a good team, and that was at home over the same Texas squad USC beat in Austin. The Gamecocks are battle-tested against Ohio State, Louisville, Duke, the Longhorns, UCLA … and had to play two games without their best player.
A humongous crowd, perhaps the second sellout for a women’s home game ever, is expected. The fans love their Gamecocks and they won’t have to be told when to cheer and when to drown the Bulldogs with yells. That, plus the gravity of the moment … well, USC didn’t win three consecutive SEC titles by not knowing how to win home games.
WHY MISSISSIPPI STATE WILL WIN
1. QUICK HANDS
USC’s point guard position has stabilized since Harris took over for Cuevas-Moore, but each still plays many minutes. Victoria Vivians and Morgan William have 39 steals apiece. They knock some balls loose early and the Gamecocks don’t know where to turn.
Davis can certainly fill up the basket, but when she’s off, she’s really off. It doesn’t help that the first half of the Ole Miss game featured Davis throwing up off-balance one-handed floaters that had little chance of going in. MSU can concentrate on the other four if the fifth has no chance of impacting the game.
3. NO CHICK-FIL-A
The Bulldogs hit free throws at a 71.3 percent clip (USC is at 69.4, and very streaky). Don’t think Vivians, a driver of astounding speed, doesn’t know how to get to the rim and MSU brings a 6-foot-7 player off the bench.
4. SIT DOWN
If Coates and Wilson are on the bench, USC gets real defensible real quick. The Bulldogs will be trying to get them out of their comfort zone, to lunge at mid-range shooters and run into paint-penetrators. Whistles are their enemy and MSU’s friend.
5. OUR TURN
The Gamecocks are the three-time defending SEC champs, have won 28 in a row against SEC competition and are 51-3 against the league over the past four regular seasons. It has to end sometime.