South Carolina forward A'ja Wilson, top, battles for a rebound against Connecticut forward Morgan Tuck (3) during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game Monday, Feb. 8, 2016, in Columbia, S.C. (AP Photo/Sean Rayford)
Sean Rayford
February 10, 2016

COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) There are few things South Carolina forward A'ja Wilson hates in basketball more than losing. And she can't wait for the second-ranked Gamecocks to get back on the court after their first defeat of the season.

South Carolina (22-1, 10-0 Southeastern Conference) will face No. 16 Florida (19-4, 7-3) on Thursday, seeking to rebound after its 66-54 loss to No. 1 UConn on Monday night.

''We're bouncing back pretty good,'' Wilson said Wednesday. ''It's a loss and I don't think any of us like to lose. I know coach doesn't, so she's really getting on us.''

Gamecocks coach Dawn Staley said she's worked the team hard the past two days and been pleased with their strong response. Staley has steered things back in the winning direction - South Carolina is 56-4 the past two years - the few times her team has gotten beat.

When South Carolina fell to UConn in 2015, also ending a 22-0 start, the Gamecocks went on to win the Southeastern Conference regular-season crown. When South Carolina lost to Kentucky in the regular-season finale to prevent a perfect league season, the Gamecocks rebounded with a run to the SEC Tournament title and the Final Four.

Staley sees a familiar fire at practice preparing for the surprising Gators, who are looking to beat a fifth ranked opponent this season.

Staley said she was annoyed as anyone that South Carolina couldn't topple UConn. However, she did find several positives in defeat: The Gamecocks defense and reserve Sarah Imovbioh among them.

South Carolina held UConn, which came in averaging 90 points, to its fewest points this season. Imovbioh, the Virginia transfer, played her most impactful game with 13 points on 6-of-6 shooting and added eight rebounds during a stretch when Wilson dealt with a bruised left shin that kept her out nearly all of the third quarter.

''Our team understands the bigger picture,'' said Staley, who has refocused on the SEC title.

Facing the Huskies draws interest from everywhere and sends emotions soaring because of the highly rated matchup, Staley said.

''It's a hard game, it's an emotional game,'' she said. ''But when you jolt yourself back into the SEC, you get a top 16 team in the country. You don't rest on your laurels. You've got to get back in the SEC mode.''

No one's been better than the Gamecocks in the SEC this season. Every other SEC team has at least three losses.

Wilson does not think the disappointment of losing to UConn will linger into Thursday night.

''I think we all learned from that game and this team will come back better and stronger,'' she said.

Wilson, the team's leading scorer (16.5 points), wore two plastic braces on her ankles in a continuing battle against shin splits. She got hit in the left shin during the second quarter Monday night and had to be helped to the locker room, many in the sold-out arena wondering if she'd return. Wilson returned to the court at the end of the third quarter and played the rest of the game.

She said she's sore, but ready to go against the Gators. So is second-leading scorer Tiffany Mitchell (14.5), who played against UConn with a bruised lower back.

The Gamecocks are still without senior starter Asia Dozier, who injured her right hand against Texas A&M three games ago. She missed contests with Kentucky and UConn and won't play against Florida, Staley said.

Wilson, a 6-foot-5 sophomore, believes the Gamecocks' performance after they suffered their first loss last year will help them get past this year's first defeat.

''Yeah, UConn's a big game, but it's just a regular season game,'' she said. ''But that hasn't gotten in the way of our main goals to win the SEC and get to the Final Four.''

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