The start of the second semester marks a convenient midpoint in the South Carolina women's basketball season, with half of the 28-game regular season now decided.
Outside of a Dec. 4 hiccup at Cameron Indoor to the now No. 13-ranked Duke Blue Devils, the Gamecocks have perfectly navigated a schedule that featured three matchups against top-10 teams. There are two more games ahead scheduled against teams currently ranked in the top 10, with South Carolina slated to host No. 4 Mississippi State on Jan. 23 before traveling to compete with Geno Auriemma's No. 1 Connecticut Huskies on Feb. 13. Dawn Staley's team validated their lofty pre-season rankings and accolades with wins over Ohio State, Louisville and UCLA, but there is just a little more on the line with the two marquee matchups in the second half.
The Gamecocks have won 25 consecutive games in the SEC, and 40 of their last 41, including tournament play. The undefeated Bulldogs are ranked one spot ahead of South Carolina in the AP Poll for week nine and are the first real threat to South Carolina's complete conference domination.
Mississippi State represents one of the few teams in the conference that really stands to score with Gamecocks, and a lot of that comes down to their efficiency. They boast the highest field goal percentage in the conference, and they rank No. 2 behind Vanderbilt from behind the arc.
Their offense revolves around guard Victoria Vivians, who has been one of the premier scorers in the SEC since the moment she stepped on campus. The daughter of head coach Vic Schaefer, guard Blair Schaefer recently propelled Mississippi State over Arkansas with two second-half three-pointers. The Bulldogs also figure to have the physicality to compete with the Gamecocks down at the post.
In what has evolved into a perennial rivalry game between South Carolina and Connecticut, the Huskies have served as a litmus test for the Gamecocks' postseason aspirations. Connecticut defeated South Carolina 66-54 in Columbia last season, the Gamecock's only loss of the season until they fell to Syracuse in the Sweet 16. The Gamecocks will have the added challenge of going on the road to play the four-time defending champions.
The South Carolina women's team weathered a potentially treacherous first half almost flawlessly, but with a new-conference challenger and an old foe remaining on the horizon, there is a lot more to be learned about this team in the second half.