Staley: It’s time for South Carolina’s top seed to strut

But there are things to settle. Kentucky outscored the Gamecocks 21-7 in the fourth quarter of the loss, and in the semifinals, Ole Miss used a 21-8 fourth period to make it look the result – a 61-51 win at South Carolina – closer than it was.

Destanni Henderson said the energy over the last 12 days of training was better.

“I just feel like those last two games weren’t our best games. I feel like coming to training after those games, I feel like we just got even stronger or that we just got some extra reps,” the senior guard said.

Brooklyn Fort-Davis junior forward Howard said already playing a game on South Carolina soil is a small advantage for a team that can’t get carried away by the hype.

“We can’t play this game like we’re scared. Yes, they are the No. 1 seed, but we have to play the game as if they were any other team,” she said.

Despite their perch established at the top of the world of women’s college basketball. Friday’s game will be the first time in four years that South Carolina has hosted the women’s tournament in its own arena. The men’s tournament was at Colonial Life Arena in 2019 while the Gamecock women were to host in Charlotte. There were no events in 2020 and in 2021 all games were played in the San Antonio bubble.

“I can’t wait to see the atmosphere,” said American junior Aliyah Boston.

FAMILY ENEMIES

In Friday’s opener, two friends from Florida take their teams to South Carolina as No. 8 seed Miami (20-12) takes on No. 9 seed South Florida (24-8).

Before COVID-19, the Hurricanes and Bulls would meet midway between Miami and Tampa before the start of the season for a closed scrimmage. Miami coach Katie Meier invited South Florida coach Jose Fernandez to her No Banned Topics coaching symposium five years ago.

“Jose and I were texting at the same time when the medium came out. We’re very familiar,” Meier said.

Both coaches therefore know to expect a battle filled with defense. Miami hasn’t allowed more than 70 points in its last 12 games, while South Florida has gone 15 games without letting an opponent score more than 70.

“I don’t know how fun the game is going to be to watch, but I think you’re going to see two good teams defending and rebounding,” Fernandez said. “It could be a race at 60.”

GIANT KILLERS

Howard can try to do something on Friday that every other Columbia team has done this year – knock off a No. 1 seed from the tournament.

Beat South Florida Stanford 57-54 in November in the Bahamas. Miami beat Louisville 61-59 in the quarter-finals of the Atlantic Coast Conference Tournament. South Carolina beat both Stanford and North Carolina State this season.

“We know what the opportunity is. It’s just to go out and play and compete. I’m not thinking about the No. 1 seeds,” Howard’s trainer Ty Grace said.

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