The Daily Gamecock

Women’s basketball prepares for postseason play

USC sophomore forward Aleighsa Welch said playing teams you’ve already played before is dangerous. The Gamecocks defeated Alabama earlier in the season.
USC sophomore forward Aleighsa Welch said playing teams you’ve already played before is dangerous. The Gamecocks defeated Alabama earlier in the season.

No. 5 seed South Carolina begins SEC tournament against Alabama today

It’s “win or go home” time for South Carolina women’s basketball.
Players are saying it. Coach Dawn Staley is saying it. All are looking to avoid the second half of the phrase as the Gamecocks begin SEC Tournament play today.
“If that doesn’t motivate you and make you want to play your best basketball at this time of the season, you’re probably in the wrong sport,” Staley said. “And you’re probably playing for the wrong program and for the wrong coach.”
USC (23-6, 11-5 SEC) is a No. 5 seed in the tournament and plays the winner of Wednesday’s game between Alabama and Mississippi State.
Though the Gamecocks beat both teams during the regular season, sophomore forward Aleighsa Welch said the danger in the SEC Tournament is in playing teams you’ve faced multiple times before.
Welch said USC’s goal is “playing a full 40 minutes of basketball” because she saw moments when USC couldn’t put two halves together.
“That’s going to show how good of a team we are — if we can come out and actually play to our full ability against a team that already knows what we’re going to do,” Welch said.
Welch remembered the tournament last year as being long, much of the challenge stemming from playing back-to-back days. Though USC is a lock for the NCAA Tournament, projected a No. 4 seed, Staley said a run in the SEC Tournament could only help. And though it’s long, women’s basketball gets a lengthy break from the end of conference tournament to the start of the NCAA Tournament March 23.
“I think momentum is always a good thing to have,” Welch said. “You kind of just ride that momentum if you have it, and it just gives you an extra boost to be on a winning streak and to come in with confidence about yourself. I think with every game you come into, you want to come off feeling a high from a previous win, so we want to keep as much momentum as possibly we can.”
Staley said the high-level competition in the conference this season makes the SEC Tournament a good test for her team before the SEC Tournament. Six of the 14 teams in the conference are nationally ranked.
“I think parity in our conference is running wild,” Staley said. “Everybody feels like they have a shot of winning the tournament. These type of settings really prepare you for the NCAA play.”
Though the Gamecocks know a loss in the SEC Tournament won’t end their season, they’re looking longer term to the NCAA Tournament — when a loss will end anyone’s season. Staley said it’s fairly easy to feel the intensity now.
“I think we want to give the newcomers a taste of what we got to taste last year,” Welch said. “I know for me, making it to the Sweet 16 was an amazing thing. We want to make sure we give the newcomers what we were able to get last year. With that, we have to improve ourselves within the SEC Tournament because that’s going to be a big challenge for us.”
Gamecocks recognized: Four USC starters were recognized by the league’s coaches for their performance this season. Most notably, senior point guard Ieasia Walker was named the SEC Defensive Player of the Year. Walker has 82 steals this season.
Welch and senior forward Ashley Bruner were named to the All-SEC second team, while guard Tiffany Mitchell was named to the All-SEC freshman team.
“I’m glad to see the fruits of her labor pay off in something that’s tangible,” Staley said of Walker. “I’m quite sure she’s really, really glad that it’s happened to us because sometimes our team does get overlooked because we do play a team defensive game, and we’re pretty good at it. This particular year, it was pretty easy to see who got us started.”


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