The Daily Gamecock

Women's basketball prepares for Florida

Gamecocks to host last home stand of the season

The women’s basketball team will host Florida at 1 p.m. on Sunday as it makes its final push toward an SEC regular season title.

The No. 4 Gamecocks (24-2, 12-1 SEC) have three games left, including Sunday’s tilt, to capture their first-ever SEC title. Coach Dawn Staley said she did not expect South Carolina to have so few losses at this point in the season. She did think, however, that her program would reach new heights.

The best the Gamecocks’ have done in Staley’s tenure was reaching the Sweet 16 in the 2012 NCAA tournament. With such a high ranking at this point in the season, expectations are that a Final Four run should be in the discussion.

Staley has made an effort to keep her players from concentrating on all the hype about the team’s success.

“What I emphasize is we control our own destiny,” she said after Wednesday’s practice. “That means we have to continue to stay in the moment. As far as we’re concerned, we’re not looking over our shoulders. We’re just looking ahead to the next game.”

The Gators (17-9, 7-6 SEC) are trying to solidify a spot in the NCAA tournament. Florida swept its season series against Kentucky but could use one more win against a ranked opponent to solidify a NCAA tournament appearance.

Florida has four players averaging double figures, with another, redshirt sophomore guard Cassie Peoples, averaging 9.9 points per game.

The Gators, did suffer a big loss when sophomore forward Christin Mercer was suspended after an arrest on robbery charges.

Mercer averaged 11.8 points per game and was a go-to option off the bench. She also had the Gators’ highest field goal percentage before her suspension.

Replacing Mercer in her absence is senior guard and leading scorer Jaterra Bonds, who averages just over 16 points and more than four assists per game.

Redshirt junior guard Kayla Lewis is Florida’s best rebounder with 8.8 per game to go along with 11 points per contest.

Florida’s best inside players are all around 6 feet tall, which means the Gamecocks have the advantage inside. Junior center Elem Ibiam and freshman center Alaina Coates stand 4 inches taller than Florida’s bigs and should be called upon often to use their post games.

Coates is continuing a strong campaign toward an SEC Freshman of the Year award, averaging 12.1 points and 7.8 rebounds per game.

Sophomore guard Tiffany Mitchell keeps making large contributions for South Carolina, leading the team in both scoring and assists. She also averages 5.3 rebounds per game and leads the team in steals with a little over two per game.

Now that South Carolina is being recognized as one of the country’s best teams, fans have wondered if it is hard for Gamecock players to not look ahead of what could be at season’s end.

“I don’t personally think so; I think we’ll just take it one game at a time,” said junior forward Aleighsa Welch. “We have to — we really can’t afford to get too ahead of ourselves looking at what can possibly be done.”

Staley’s goal right now is to get her team to play at its full potential. She thinks defensively, there can always be room for improvement.

As for all the success this year, players have noticed more support from the student body.

“I think they are acknowledging us now,” Mitchell said. “I think we have a lot more support than we’ve had in previous years. It’s a lot more of a family atmosphere now on campus.”