Dawn Staley previews South Carolina’s Valentine’s Day game with Georgia
Who: No. 12 South Carolina (17-6, 9-1 SEC) vs. Georgia (14-9, 5-5 SEC)
When: 7 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 14
Where: Colonial Life Arena
Watch: SEC Network or streaming on WatchESPN
Radio: 1320 AM in Columbia Area
Series history: Georgia leads the all-time series between the schools, 33-16. The Gamecocks have won eight in a row over the Lady Bulldogs and have not lost to them at home since 2012.
Last meeting: USC and UGA met in the semifinals of the SEC tournament last season in Nashville, Tennessee. The Gamecocks took home the 71-49 victory and A’ja Wilson broke the program all-time scoring record.
South Carolina projected starting lineup: Junior guard Tyasha Harris, redshirt junior guard Te’a Cooper, redshirt senior guard Bianca Cuevas-Moore, redshirt senior forward Alexis Jennings, junior forward Mikiah Herbert Harrigan
Georgia projected starting lineup: Sophomore guard Gabby Connally, redshirt junior guard Taja Cole, sophomore guard Maya Caldwell, sophomore guard Que Morrison, senior forward Caliya Robinson
Which Georgia shows up: Georgia entered this year ranked No. 14 in the preseason AP poll, No. 13 in the coaches poll, picked to finish fourth in the SEC. But the Lady Bulldogs struggled out of the gate, dropping every high-major nonconference game they played and falling out of the rankings by Week 3.
Conference play has gone a little better — Georgia’s beaten solid teams in Arkansas, Tennessee and LSU and pushed Auburn to overtime, but it has also been blown out by 26 points against Missouri and dropped a home game to Alabama.
All that adds up to a game in which South Carolina is solidly favored, but Georgia has the talent to disrupt very easily.
“They play hard. They play pressure defense. They got some key pieces where they got inside play, they got guard play. They just play hard. They’re a relentless team on both sides of the ball. We gotta bring it,” USC coach Dawn Staley said.
Defense remains the Lady Bulldogs’ calling card — they rank 26th nationally in points allowed per 100 possessions, according to Her Hoop Stats, as well as 24th in opponents’ field goal percentage. Opposing teams make just 35.7 percent of their shots against UGA, which leads the SEC.
Containing Caliya: The frontline of Georgia’s defense is forward Caliya Robinson, a two-time SEC All-Defensive selection who currently ranks second in the conference in blocked shots per game. She’s the key to Georgia’s 15.3 percent block rate, which is the second highest of any team in the country.
On the offensive end, Robinson leads the team with 13.4 points and 2.7 offensive rebounds per game. Her combined 8.2 boards per contest ranks sixth in the SEC.
Coming off a game against UConn in which South Carolina was both out-rebounded and out-scored in the paint, containing Robinson will be key for Staley’s game plan. But that doesn’t mean she’ll draw an extra defender.
“We pretty much one-on-one’d her. If you double her, they rebound the ball so well you’re leaving yourself unbalanced to rebound the ball. We’re going into the game just straight manning her. If we have to make adjustments, we’ll do that during the game,” Staley said.
Post play problems: After losing the frontcourt battled against Connecticut, Staley was once again unsatisfied with her forwards’ play, both in practice and in games as of late. Junior Mikiah Herbert Harrigan and senior Alexis Jennings, who start, had just seven combined rebounds against the Huskies and 11 against Ole Miss.
Herbert Harrigan in particular has been in a small slump as of late after scoring in double figures in eight consecutive games. Over her last three contests, she’s averaging 6.3 points and 3.7 rebounds.
“I’m not happy with rebounding in general,” Staley said. “Our post players have to do a better job, we gotta get one of our guards to rebound the ball, and it’s just not happening. We need to get extra possessions when we can and we gotta box out, because people are making us pay.”