From one pack of Tigers to the next.
On Thursday night, Dawn Staley and South Carolina women’s basketball will try to put their controversial loss to Missouri from this past Sunday behind them when they host Auburn at Colonial Life Arena.
In order to do so, the No. 9 Gamecocks will have to contend with a scrappy Tigers defense that forces more turnovers than almost anyone in the country.
Auburn ranks third in the NCAA and first in the SEC in turnovers forced and steals per game, and the Tigers also rank in the nation’s top 15 in scoring defense. A key reason for that defensive success is coach Terri Williams-Flournoy’s pressure defense.
“They’re going to press us for 40 minutes,” Staley said of Auburn. “They’re relentless, probably even more relentless than they were last year, so we’ve been working that over the last two days.
“But as much as we try to simulate it, it’s different because it’s all the time, it’s every dead ball, it’s when they have the opportunity to do it in the full court, three-quarter court, half court, our guards have to be really focused and poised, poised knowing that they’re going to be trapped, knowing that they’re going to be put under an incredible amount of duress.”
South Carolina’s guard corps remains without transfer Te’a Cooper, who is still waiting for the NCAA to rule on her application for a hardship waiver. Graduate transfer Lindsey Spann is also somewhat limited in how many minutes she can put in as she continues to work back to full health from a knee injury.
That leaves an underclassman duo of sophomore Tyasha Harris and freshman Bianca Jackson to do lots of the heavy lifting, but it’s a task Staley believes they’re both up to. Harris is 14th in the country in assist to turnover ratio, and Jackson has played heavy minutes with the demeanor of a much older player.
“(Jackson’s) been pretty calm and poised and maybe she’ll get rattled a little bit, but she’s a kid that can make some adjustments in the game and have some success with it,” Staley said.
“We just gotta stay disciplined and stay within our game and keep firm when they’re pressuring us and look over the top,” Harris said of how she plans to handle the pressure.
It’s been nearly five years since South Carolina last lost consecutive games — in February 2013, the Gamecocks lost to Texas A&M and Kentucky back-to-back. Including that one blip, USC is 17-1 in games following a loss over the past six seasons.
“Our team has been good at just staying in the moment and just taking care of what’s in front of us, so that’s what we’ll do,” Staley said.
For star forward A’ja Wilson, Thursday also marks an opportunity to reset herself after an tough outing versus Missouri in which she spent more than half the game on the bench due to foul trouble and failed to reach double figures in scoring for the first time this year. Wilson hasn’t had back-to-back games below 10 points since midway through her freshman season.
“I learned how to keep going, keep pushing through, and that’s something I learn after every loss,” Wilson said of the Missouri defeat. “I think we know how to bounce back, we do a very good job of bouncing back, so that’s our main focus, is how can we grow from that?”
Gamecock Fan Essentials
Who: Auburn, 10-5, 1-2 SEC
When: Thursday, 7 p.m.
Where: Colonial Life Arena, Columbia, South Carolina
Watch: Streaming online on SEC Network Plus through WatchESPN
Listen: 1320 AM
History: South Carolina owns a 22-21 record against Auburn all-time, including an ongoing seven-game win streak dating back to 2013.
Key storyline: Auburn ranks third in the country in turnovers forced per game and boasts one of the best defenses in college basketball. Leading the way, junior guard Janiah McKay tops the SEC in steals per game and averages the most points per game for the Tigers. At 5-foot-6, McKay will be undersized against South Carolina’s taller guards.