Syracuse-South Carolina Preview
SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (AP) South Carolina's game plan against Syracuse basically comes down to five words.
Take care of the ball.
The top-seeded Gamecocks (33-1) will be facing a pressure defense the likes of which they haven't seen this season in the Sioux Falls Regional semifinal on Friday night. The fourth-seeded Orange (27-7) have forced 24.5 turnovers a game, the most of any team in the nation, and a total of 46 in their wins over Army and Albany in the women's NCAA Tournament.
''For us, it's handling their press, making sure we're not turning it over as much as they turn people over,'' Gamecocks coach Dawn Staley said Thursday. ''We've got to get the ball inside no matter what they're in.''
South Carolina, averaging 14.4 turnovers, will rely on senior guards Tiffany Mitchell and Khadijah Sessions to break the press and feed Southeastern Conference player of the year A'ja Wilson and Alaina Coates. The 6-foot-5 Wilson and 6-4 Coates have combined for 28 points and 19 rebounds a game this season.
South Carolina knocked Syracuse out of the tournament in the second round last year, winning 97-68. The teams also played earlier last season, with the Gamecocks winning 67-63.
This is the highest-stakes meeting, with Syracuse in the Sweet 16 for the first time and South Carolina looking almost unstoppable so far in its bid for a second straight trip to the Final Four.
''Any time you can play an opponent twice and they're not in your conference, you can build some familiarity, kind of know what to expect,'' Syracuse's Alexis Peterson said.
The Orange's Briana Day said, ''I'm thinking third time's the charm.''
Turnovers were no issue for South Carolina in the two games last year. The Gamecocks committed just five in the first meeting and 12 in the second.
''I definitely feel like they've upped their level of aggression, especially in their press,'' Coates said. ''Last year, just from watching film to how they are now, they've definitely caused issues for other teams with getting the ball down the floor.''
Things to know as Syracuse and South Carolina prepare for their third meeting in 17 months:
FUELING THE FIRE: Some of the Gamecock faithful bristled after reading Day's remark about South Carolina in the Syracuse Post-Standard. The Orange's junior center told the newspaper Sunday the Gamecocks ''are pretty good. But I don't think there's much of a challenge.''
Asked if South Carolina still lacks the respect of UConn or Notre Dame, Wilson said, ''I'm not sure. I just feel like it kind of is what it is. People are going to say things. People will think the way they think... We can't really dictate what people say. We have to stay true to ourselves. We're just going to go out there and play.''
Day said Thursday that ''things get misconstrued. They're a very good team, and so are we. I'm not saying that they're terrible... We know who South Carolina is. Everyone knows who South Carolina is.''
REISS-STALEY REUNION: Old Virginia teammates and roommates Tammi Reiss and Staley will be on opposite benches, with Reiss hired as a Syracuse assistant last June. The two played on three Cavalier teams that reached the Final Four in the early 1990s.
''We made incredible memories together,'' Staley said. ''Obviously, we put ourselves in a position to make another memory. I just hope it's a good memory for us.''
HOT STREAKS: Syracuse has won 13 of its last 14 games, with its only loss coming to Notre Dame in the ACC Tournament on March 6. The Gamecocks have won 11 in a row since its only loss of the season, against UConn on Feb. 8.
SIZE ADVANTAGE: Syracuse counters South Carolina's size advantage with dynamic guards in Alexis Peterson, Brianna Butler and Brittney Sykes. Peterson averages 15.4 points and is a big playmaker, Butler is a 3-point sharpshooter and Sykes, like the other two, has more than 1,000 career points.
''We can't allow them to get easy buckets,'' Staley said. ''Everything they do must come under duress.''
TOSSING AND TURNING: Syracuse coach Quentin Hillsman said he was so confident before his team played Albany in the second round that he went to bed at 10:30 the night before. South Carolina, however, is keeping him up at night. ''Haven't slept yet,'' he said.