Sean Rayford
March 22, 2017

COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) South Carolina has dodged what could have been another major blow to its championship hopes as the banged-up Gamecocks have learned that injured guard Allisha Gray will be able to play in the Sweet 16.

It was good news for the Gamecocks, as the situation looked anything but positive a few days ago.

Gray had to who had to be carried off the court late in South Carolina's comeback against Arizona State with what was originally called a knee sprain.

South Carolina coach Dawn Staley said Wednesday instead of a knee sprain Gray's injury was more like a ''charley horse'' in her hamstring.

''You saw her practicing, she's going to go,'' Staley said. ''It wasn't her knee, so that was the great news about it.''

Gray's absence would've meant additional chaos to a lineup still adjusting to the loss of starting forward Alaina Coates. South Carolina, the top seed in the Stockton Regional, heads out to California to take on No. 12 seed Quinnipiac (29-6) on Saturday.

If the Gamecocks (29-4) avoid being the next Quinnipiac's next upset victim, they'll meet either second seeded Oregon State or third-seeded Florida State on Monday for the chance to reach a second Final Four in three seasons.

Gray moved well through the final 15 minutes of the team's last practice at home before heading West later Wednesday. The transfer from North Carolina had 11 points before getting hurt Sunday as the Gamecocks used a 34-13 run to take control in a victory over Arizona State.

The Gamecocks gradually worked Gray back into practice this week once discovering the injury was not as severe as first thought.

A'ja Wilson said the team has tried to keep Gray's spirits high and not worried about being a step slow because of last week.

''Allisha's a person who's kind of down on herself right now as anyone is with an injury,'' Wilson said. ''Just take it day to day and we have her back if anything were to come up.''

South Carolina has had to handle that before.

When Coates hurt her right ankle at Missouri on Feb. 19, she missed a crucial contest at Texas A&M with the Gamecocks contending for a Southeastern Conference crown. The Gamecocks responded with an 80-64 victory that helped them earn a fourth consecutive regular-season conference championship.

Coates' injury kept her out of the SEC Tournament title game against Mississippi State earlier this month, but the Gamecocks prevailed without her, defeating the Bulldogs 59-49 for a third straight tournament title.

Staley said her team will need to be at the top of their game to avoid being upset by Quinnipiac, which has rode its outside shooting to beat Marquette and first-round host Miami.

''They're the Cinderella team in our bracket,'' Wilson said. ''We can't have any missing possessions ... we're just going to have to continue to do us.''

It was this round a year ago when South Carolina, also top seeded, lost to Syracuse, which eventually wound up in the national championship game. Staley has not brought up that bad memory, knowing those involved remember too well the disappointment of not reaching a second straight Final Four.

This is the third time the Gamecocks have been sent outside the Eastern time zone as a top seed. The first two times, they fell short of the Final Four, falling to North Carolina in Stanford, California in 2014 and to Syracuse in Sioux Falls, South Dakota last year.

Staley said she decided it made sense to leave a day earlier to adjust to the time zone. The newly named U.S. women's national team coach had just one request.

''I will ask Stanford women's basketball fans that aren't going to (Lexington Regional), if they could come up north and pay us a visit and cheer for us,'' Staley quipped. ''That would be nice.''

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More AP college basketball: www.collegebasketball.ap.org

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