Who: No. 23 South Carolina (8-4) vs. No. 21 Texas A&M (11-2)
When: 9 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 3
Where: Reed Arena, College Station, Texas
Watch: SEC Network
Radio: 107.5 FM in Columbia
Series history: South Carolina leads the all-time series 5-3, with all of those meetings coming since 2013. All of the Gamecocks’ wins have come in their current win streak.
Last meeting: A’ja Wilson sank a basket with 1.3 seconds left to complete an 11-point comeback and give USC a 61-59 win at home over the Aggies. Then-freshman Chennedy Carter put up 36 points for A&M in the losing effort.
‘By far one of the best’: Texas A&M sophomore guard Chennedy Carter swept to All-SEC and national freshman of the year honors last year with some eye-popping numbers — 21.5 points and 4.7 assists per game, both top-two marks in the conference.
Thus far, her second season has been remarkably similar — 21.0 points, 4.3 assists and 4.3 rebounds per contest, while ranking 25th in the country in usage rate, per Her Hoops Stats. And she is absolutely fearless in shooting the ball, attempting more than 18 shots per game. Comparatively, USC’s leader, redshirt junior guard Te’a Cooper, is averaging 10.3 attempts.
South Carolina coach Dawn Staley, herself a pretty prolific scorer and dynamic guard back in her playing days, has a lot of respect for what Carter can do, ranking her among the best she’s ever seen.
“She’s by far one of the best (guards), because she can score three ways — at the rim, in the midrange, deep 3,” Staley said. “And she can pass the ball. But she’s a woman that bets on herself a lot and she’s good at it. She’s one of the best.”
One-woman show?: Given how highly Staley thinks of Carter, it’s little surprise that South Carolina’s gameplan is mostly centered on slowing her down.
“She puts up a lot of shots, so I think it’s going to be a team effort,” Cooper said. “She is the majority of their points, so I think if we can lock down her, we’re going to be able to lock it down.”
Carter doesn’t actually score more than half her team’s points, but she does account for more than 28 percent of the 73.23 points per game the Aggies are currently averaging. Part of South Carolina’s plan to slow her offensive outburst, Staley said, is to tire her out on the other end of the floor.
“I don’t think you can play her just straight man to man. You gotta throw a little junk at her, you gotta make her work for it. You gotta make her play on the other side of the ball because she does take her breaks on the defensive side of the ball. We’ll try to mix her up and make her have to play a little defense against us,” Staley said.
Health report: With redshirt senior guard Bianca Cuevas-Moore playing without a knee brace, redshirt senior forward Alexis Jennings rounding back into form from nagging ailments from the start of the season and Cooper back to full speed after a knee injury bothered her for several weeks, South Carolina is the healthiest it’s been all season, according to Staley.
On the other bench, however, A&M will be without one of its top starters in sophomore guard Aaliyah Wilson, who tore her ACL on Dec. 14. Wilson had been averaging 13.8 points, 4.1 rebounds and 2.7 assists per game in the early portion of the season, but since her injury, Texas A&M has won all four of its games, including an upset of then-No. 8 Oregon State and a home win over Southern Cal.
South Carolina projected starting lineup: Junior guard Tyasha Harris, redshirt junior guard Te’a Cooper, freshman guard Destanni Henderson, redshirt senior forward Alexis Jennings, junior forward Mikiah Herbert Harrigan
Texas A&M projected starting lineup: Sophomore guard Chennedy Carter, junior guard Shambria Washington, sophomore guard Kayla Wells, sophomore forward N’dea Jones, sophomore center Ciera Johnson
South Carolina key stats: The Gamecocks continue to be one of the nation’s best at blocking shots, ranking fourth in blocks per game and eighth in block rate. ... USC has a 5-0 record this season when it has 15 or more assists in a game and a 7-0 mark when it assists on at least half its made field goals. ... Carolina ranks sixth in the SEC and 32nd nationally in points per 100 possessions, at 104.8. ... In night games this year, Dawn Staley’s team has a 5-4 record, compared to a 3-0 record in the day.
Texas A&M key stats: The Aggies have one of the best 3-point percentages of any team in the country, ranking 25th with a 37.6 percent mark. However, they shoot the second lowest rate of 3-pointers as a percentage of their overall shots in the NCAA. ... Only two teams in the SEC and 17 in the nation take more free throws than Texas A&M, who averages 13.8 attempts from the charity stripe per game. ... A&M is tied for 16th nationally in rebounding margin and ranks 13th in rebounding rate.