The No. 1 South Carolina women’s basketball team is gearing up for an eventful February.
The team will break from conference play this Sunday and travel to face No. 5 UConn. Then there’s the sold-out home game Feb. 12 against No. 3 LSU, the only other undefeated team left in the country. And don’t forget about a Feb. 23 game at Tennessee, which is 7-1 in the SEC.
But before any of those aforementioned games, the Gamecocks will focus their efforts on Thursday’s game at Colonial Life Arena against Kentucky.
“We think our league is super important to us,” head coach Dawn Staley said. “To win the conference, regular season and then the SEC tournament. That’s something that we would like to do, and that’s in the forefront.”
South Carolina (21-0, 9-0 SEC) will be the second SEC team to face the Huskies this season, as the Lady Volunteers played them last week — an 84-67 UConn win.
UConn has won 13 straight games and is 20-2 overall, despite being decimated with injuries from the season’s onset. The team lost Paige Bueckers and Ice Brady before the year began, and they’ve had multiple players miss games throughout the season. But depth has given the Huskies the ability to remain a top five team.
Playing a team of UConn’s caliber proves to be beneficial, Staley said, as it gives USC a chance to face off against one of the best teams in the country and one of the most storied.
“To play UConn in the middle of the season like that, I do think it helps us from a NCAA tournament standpoint where you get a chance to see somebody who’s been to the Final Four the last, I don’t know, 20 years,” Staley said.
South Carolina defeated Kentucky on Jan. 12 in Lexington 95-66. The game was close throughout, but USC outscored the Wildcats 36-15 in the fourth quarter to run away with the win. The 66 points the Wildcats scored against the Gamecocks were the second-most that any team has managed against USC’s defense.
Kentucky is 2-2 since that game — with losses by one and three points. The Wildcats are 10-11 on the season and 2-7 in conference play.
Staley and the Gamecocks have talked all season about not overlooking opponents, and the focus they plan to put on Kentucky remains consistent with that message.
“We’re working with a group of young women who are highly motivated, Staley said Jan. 18. “They only want to win. And they only deal with the task that’s in front of them.”
February contains some of the biggest on-paper games on South Carolina’s schedule.
The Gamecocks have already played three ranked teams this season, and eight teams in women’s basketball’s top 50 NET rankings. LSU and UConn are the remaining ranked opponents for the Gamecocks, and their games against Tennessee, Georgia and Ole Miss will be three more against top 50 NET opponents.
The Gamecocks have defeated UConn in three of their last four meetings — including the 2022 national championship. Sunday will be USC’s first look at this year’s Huskies.
“To be able to play them in the regular season, and maybe, possibly playing them in the tournament, it really helps you from a psyche standpoint, from a confidence standpoint,” Staley said. “And if you need to make some adjustments, you can make some adjustments.”
NEXT FOUR SOUTH CAROLINA WBB GAMES
- Thursday: home vs. Kentucky, 7 p.m. (SEC Network)
- Sunday: at UConn, noon (Fox)
- Feb. 9: at Auburn, 8 p.m. (SEC Network Plus)
- Feb. 12: home vs. LSU, 2 p.m. (SEC Network)