ABOUT THE GAMECOCKS: A veteran team with great balance and defensive strength rolls into Walton Arena for an early start. Lauren Simms, Iva Sliskovic and Melanie Johnsonlead Carolina. The Gamecocks average only 69 points per game, but have a +12.7 scoring margin thanks to a stingy defense that allows only 36.2% from the field and commands the boards to the tune of +9.5 rebounds.
YES, THE GAME IS AT 6 PM: This is the first of several blunt reminders that the South Carolina game on Thursday, Feb. 8, is a 6:00 CENTRAL TIME tipoff to accommodate Fox Sports Network. The game was picked up after schedule cards were printed this summer, but team posters and the media guide have the correct time, which is, once gain, 6:00 PM.
IF THE TOURNAMENT WERE HELD TODAY: Tonight’s game goes a long way toward determining the final seeds. We remain functionally in the same boat as last Thursday and this past Sunday — Auburn, Kentucky, Arkansas and South Carolina for the 7, 8, 9 and 10 spots. No ties can be broken as Arkansas and USC have not played, and with Auburn a half-game out of sync due to bye dates. This much we know for sure — Arkansas is out of the running for a first-day bye thanks to likely tiebreakers and is within one game of mathematically eliminating a night game on the first day (the 11 and 12 seeds).
SIMPLE CONCEPT — GET THE BALL DOWN LOW: Arkansas pounded it inside down the stretch against Ole Miss, and Lauren Ervin responded with one of the best percentage games against a SEC opponent with 8-of-11 and a career high 22 points. Earlier, Ervin broke the school mark for a SEC game with 9-of-9 at Auburn. The 6-4 junior gets close to the over 10 shots mark of Shameka Christon (10-of-13, 76.9%) with her 72.7% against Ole Miss.
DEFENSE RULES: For the second straight game, Arkansas’ defense scored a major stop during the course of the game.
LAST MINUTE, NOT SO MUCH: Two ways to look at the games that got away as Arkansas achieved minor leads but could not keep pace offensively — Miss State — or shut down the opponent on crucial plays — Ole Miss.
NEW HIGHS: Lauren Ervin knocked down 22 points for a new career high, and with her 10th double-double moves into sole possession of third on the all-time list for a season. Her next double-double gives her the most against SEC foes — currently four with Stephanie Bloomer. The 12 points by Tanisha Smith sounds modest, considering her career high of 23 from the Hawai’i tournament, but it is the most for the freshman against a SEC foe and her second best game at Arkansas.
REBOUNDING MAY SET YOU FREE: Arkansas came very close to outrebounding Ole Miss, and did for regulation. When Arkansas won the boards this year, the Lady’Backs are 12-1. This could be super crucial with South Carolina as the Gamecocks are pulling down +9.5 for a rebound margin but have an average for a good team +4.1 turnover margin.
ALL ABOUT WALTON: Carolina is strong at home, 12-4 for the year and some famous near misses in the four losses. USC is only 1-7 on the road and winless in league play. Also, USC has never won in Fayetteville.
CAN WE SAY WE’RE ON THE ROAD: Arkansas has been a more quality team away from Walton Arena. It was here that the team’s worst shooting game of the year happened, and Arkansas has scored two big road wins this season in league play at Auburn and at Florida.
THEY’RE DEEP: Carolina plays all the way down the bench with 11 players seeing action in 20 or more games, 10 that have started games and minutes played distribution that is remarkable. The minutes played low is 13.7, ranging up to a high of only 27. Only two players are under 10 minutes per game, and one of those two is a veteran senior (Larissa Kulscar).
THEY’RE TALL: The hallmark of USC has been its size, and this year is just like any other ranging from 6-6 Ilona Burgrova and 6-5 Iva Sliskovic. Only six players are substantially below 6-0 (the’s one at 5-11).
AND IT’S ABOUT THE INSIDE: USC averages a +9.5 rebound margin, pulling down 45 per game and averages six blocked shots per game.
FOR ALL THE TALK ABOUT FINISHES . . .: This is really about starts. The Lady’Backs came roaring back again from a first half 16-point deficit to lead against Ole Miss by three with 1:30 to play. The signature run was a 20-2 surge for the first lead of the game with five to play. In the previous game, Arkansas outscored Miss State 48-39 over the last 22:10 of the game, but the damage was done with a 15-point lead in the first half. They couldn’t complete the comeback that was the profile at Florida and Auburn. Arkansas trailed the Gators by 15 before going on a 57-35 tear over the final 25 minutes. With Auburn, Arkansas spotted the Tigers an 11-point lead just before half, then came back 38-26 in the final 21 minutes. At LSU, Arkansas outscored the Lady Tigers for the final 18 minutes. Even in the Vanderbilt game, it was the 21-point first half lead that allowed the Commodores to cruise, playing virtually even basketball the rest of the way.
THE PRICE WAS RIGHT EARLY: Armintie Price had 20 first-half points, including a signature alley-oop at the buzzer for halftime. In the second half, Arkansas shut down the senior. Price had only two shots in the second half, making one of them.
RUN, RUN, RUN: Arkansas’ defense engineered one of the team’s highest-quality runs in recent years, holding Miss State without a point for 7:36 in the second half to key a 26-6 comeback to take the lead over Miss State. Within the run, Arkansas also held State without a field goal for 8:23.
RUN, THE SEQUEL: Just when you thought you’d seen the best of Arkansas defense, the Lady’Backs topped with a 22-2 run in the middle of the second half against Ole Miss. Arkansas held the Lady Rebels without a field goal for 10:50 and without scoring for 9:48 — the only points in Arkansas’ run were free throws.
MAYBE IT’S A MAGNOLIA THING: Arkansas huge second half defensive stands in the same week with Miss State and Ole Miss are only surpassed by the early season stops at hapless Lipscomb.
PFEIFER WAS RIGHT: After the double-overtime game with Ole Miss, Sarah Pfeifer quipped that it was the longest she had ever played in a game. Well, we checked and as a matter of fact Pfeifer equalled her most minutes played with 36 against Ole Miss. She played 36 minutes (out of 40) against Georgia Tech at the SEC-ACC Shootout during the 2005 season.
VERSUS SOUTH CAROLINA: Arkansas leads the series 13-6, but Carolina has won three of the last four encounters. In Fayetteville, Arkansas is perfect at 8-0.
LAST MEETING WITH USC: Arkansas and Carolina played opposite schedules, and the game proved the pivot for each team’s season. After a January of great offense, Arkansas had a complete breakdown with 24% from the field in the second half and only 22.2% from behing the arc for the game. While Arkansas’ defense snapped USC’s 100-game streak with a made three-pointer, it was Arkansas’ inability to convert in the clutch that cost the Lady’Backs. While hitting better than average for the game at 66.7% at the line, Arkansas missed critical free throws in the last minutes.
LAST TIME IN FAYETTEVILLE: Kristin Peoples’ 12 points and defensive pressure allowed Arkansas’ to send South Carolina home with yet another loss in Fayetteville. Building a 13-point halftime lead, the defense produced 22 turnovers resulting in almost one third (20) of Arkansas’ points. Timely three-pointers from Sheree Thompson gave Arkansas a lead of 18 points early. Sarah Pfeifer joined Peoples in double digits with 10.