Who: No. 7 South Carolina (18-4, 7-2 SEC) vs. No. 2 Mississippi State (23-0, 9-0 SEC)
When: Monday, 7 p.m.
Where: Humphrey Coliseum, Starkville, Mississippi
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Series History: South Carolina owns a 20-16 all-time edge dating to 1984. Most recently, the Gamecocks have won 11 in a row against the Bulldogs, including three games last season.
Last Time Out: South Carolina fell apart in a 29-8 second quarter and never recovered against No. 1 UConn this past Thursday, eventually falling 83-58. Mississippi State rallied from a nine-point halftime deficit to narrowly defeat Missouri, 57-53, extending the best start in school history.
South Carolina Starters: F A’ja Wilson, F Alexis Jennings, G Doniyah Cliney, G Bianca Jackson, G Tyasha Harris
Mississippi State Starters: F Teaira McCowan, G Victoria Vivians, G Roshunda Johnson, G Blair Schaefer, G Morgan William
Key Storyline: Forget about last season’s national title game, South Carolina needs this win to have even the slightest chance of maintaining its four-year streak of SEC regular-season titles and, realistically, its run of five consecutive No. 1 NCAA seeds.
Mississippi State, on the other hand, is looking for the breakthrough it’s never had against the Gamecocks. Vic Schaefer has never beaten Dawn Staley, and his team went 0-3 last year, with those three losses costing the Bulldogs the SEC regular season title (essentially), SEC tournament title and the NCAA title. That’s brutal, and is definitely the kind of thing that will leave a chip on your shoulder.
A win Monday night would put Mississippi State in line to finish the regular season undefeated – the only other ranked team it faces after USC is No. 14 Texas A&M.
Solely from a personnel standpoint, this should be an intriguing matchup. A’ja Wilson will go toe-to-toe with Teaira McCowan, a probable All-American and Wilson’s likely successor as the SEC’s best post player. From there, the Bulldogs use four guards, similar to the undersized UConn team that frustrated South Carolina so much a few days ago.
All told, this is almost certainly the biggest game of the regular season for both teams.
Other Notes: Mississippi State ranks in the top 15 in scoring offense, scoring defense, field goal percentage, turnover margin, and assist-to-turnover ratio. However, the Bulldogs do not rank in the top 3 of any major statistical category. ... Mississippi State has never won an SEC regular season title.
McCowan and Vivians rank third and fourth in the SEC in points per game, and together they make up nearly 47 percent of MSU’s offensive output. ... McCowan also leads the SEC in double-doubles, with 16. ... Senior guard Morgan William, who vaulted to fame with her game-winning shot against UConn in the Final Four last season, is averaging just 7.0 points and 4.6 assists per game this season.
A’ja Record Watch: Wilson is now 172 points from becoming South Carolina’s all-time leading scorer, male or female. ... She needs 142 made field goals to break the program record. She also needs 198 rebounds to pass Alaina Coates for second on the all-time list. ... Wilson is also on pace to average the fifth-most points per game over a season in program history. ... She needs 49 more made free throws to break her own record for most in a season and 11 more double-doubles to break USC’s season record.
Freshman Bianca Jackson scored a career-high 20 points against Connecticut, her first time leading the team by herself in scoring. She is now third on the team in minutes played this season.