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No. 1 South Carolina still loose despite loss

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COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) South Carolina players broke from a meeting after practice with smiles, laughs and goofy poses.

Bothered by their rout at Connecticut? Not this group.

Gamecocks coach Dawn Staley said her top-ranked team returned to the court in good spirits following its first defeat of the season, a nationally televised 87-62 loss to the second-ranked Huskies on Monday night.

South Carolina (22-1, 10-0 Southeastern Conference takes on LSU (14-9, 8-3) at the Colonial Life Arena on Thursday night.

Staley said players generally can respond two ways after such a loss - letting it fester and spiral, or putting it behind and concentrating on what's next.

She said the Gamecocks were active and attentive in workouts, good signs the loss to Connecticut won't lead to additional problems.

''I think we're in a really good place right now,'' Staley said Wednesday. ''The team is always focused on the task at hand and the task at hand is LSU.''

South Carolina has been at the top of the rankings for past 12 weeks, a run that will very likely end with No. 2 Connecticut taking back the spot it opened the season with.

Do the Gamecocks slip back into No. 2 or will they fall further down the rankings behind traditional powers such as No. 3 Baylor and No. 4 Notre Dame?

Those haven't been concerns for South Carolina all season and Khadijah Sessions said the team won't worry about that now.

''What we do is try and get better every day in everything that we do,'' Sessions said. ''UConn, obviously, showed us a little bit more things that we have to work on. But we're going to work on trying to find that togetherness as one.''

Connecticut certainly showed what happens when its gets its offense going. South Carolina allowed opponent season highs in points, field goal shooting (55.4 percent), field goals (31), 3-pointers (eight) and free throws made (17).

The Gamecocks depend on bench players such as 6-foot-5 A'ja Wilson and 6-4 Alaina Coates to push whatever advantage is usually built by its starting five. But Wilson and Coates combined for 16 points and nine rebounds - well off their season averages of 24 points and 15 rebounds.

Staley picked apart the game film after the team returned home in Tuesday's early morning hours, uncovering how to close the gap should the Gamecocks get another chance at the Huskies in the NCAA tournament.

''I felt like we got beat by a really good basketball team,'' Staley said. ''But I also felt I saw some things we could capitalize on what they were doing to put them back on their heels a little bit.''

Staley said you've got to match Connecticut basket for basket some times and the Gamecocks didn't do that.

South Carolina coaches, Staley acknowledged, needed to do a better job freeing up their players to score.

Now, the Gamecocks' focus is on the SEC and defending their regular-season championship.

South Carolina won at LSU 75-51 last month, but those Tigers didn't have Danielle Ballard. The junior guard returned the next game and has scored in double digits in six of LSU's past seven games.

LSU coach Nikki Caldwell said Ballard is a difference maker. ''You've got to recognize how good she is as a basketball player,'' Caldwell said. ''More importantly, she's a player that gives us calmness.''

South Carolina understands the importance of remaining calm after its loss.

''Just like we've got to regroup from wins, we've got to regroup from losses,'' said Sessions, South Carolina's junior point guard. ''We're not going to let that one game define us.''