COLUMBIA – Last weekend was a significant one for South Carolina’s women’s basketball team, and this week brings an even bigger opportunity.

The Gamecocks won at Alabama on Sunday to improve to 20-7 and 9-5 in the Southeastern Conference, with two regular season games remaining. That is their most overall and conference wins since 2002-03, when they went 23-8 and 9-5. That was also the last time they had a winning conference record, and in the eight years since, they had finished .500 in the league just twice.

Moreover, they last made the NCAA tournament in 2002-03, something they have an excellent chance of doing this season, the fourth for coach Dawn Staley, who saw steady improvement in her first three seasons – 10-18 (2-12), 14-15 (7-9) and 18-15 (8-8).

The Gamecocks travel to Kentucky on Thursday and host Arkansas on Sunday. They haven’t won 11 conference games since 1990-91, the year before the joined the SEC, when they went 22-9 and 12-2 in the Metro Conference.

Reaching 11 this year will be no easy task. Kentucky (22-5, 11-3) is ranked No. 13 nationally. The Wildcats have the most overall wins in the SEC and are tied with No. 10 Tennessee for the most conference wins. They beat Vanderbilt on Monday to snap a three-game losing streak that followed a 10-game winning streak – all against SEC competition.