COLUMBIA — The standings suggest one thing. History indicates another.
Dawn Staley will err on the side of history.
With good reason, given that the second-ranked South Carolina women’s basketball team is 1-21 at Tennessee, where the Gamecocks play Monday at 7 p.m. with a chance to clinch a share of their third straight SEC crown. USC (23-1, 11-0 SEC) has a four-game lead in the standings with five to go, beginning against a 25th-ranked Lady Vols squad in the midst of an uncharacteristically mediocre campaign.
But those recent struggles don’t mask the fact that USC is 4-45 all-time against Tennessee (15-9, 6-5), with half of those victories coming last season. The Gamecocks were 0-20 in Knoxville before USC finally broke through with its first and still only victory at Thompson-Boling Arena in 2012.
“We’re going to play history, and history says we haven’t done well playing in Knoxville,” Staley, USC’s head coach, said Sunday. “But our team has done a great job at being the top team in this conference, and we’re going to go in pretty confident that if we play our style of play, hopefully that will give us the edge in getting a win.”
A victory would guarantee USC at least a share of the conference title (as well as the top seed in the SEC Tournament), with a chance to clinch the championship outright Thursday at home against Georgia. Only two programs in league history have won or shared three or more consecutive crowns — Auburn from 1987-89, and Tennessee twice, from 1993-95 and 2000-04.
Joining that exclusive club has been one of USC’s season-long goals. But this week? “It actually hasn’t come up at all,” said senior point guard Khadijah Sessions. And Staley doesn’t plan on mentioning it.
“I think overall, our team isn’t a team that are mathematicians,” she said. “Hopefully they’re just playing great basketball and wanting to get a win. Hopefully if we do that, the numbers game will take care of itself. We just want to get another win against a top team in this conference, and keep moving the train forward.”
USC will again be without senior wing Asia Dozier, who will miss her fourth straight game with a right hand injury suffered Jan. 31 at Texas A&M. Redshirt freshman Doniyah Cliney will make her second consecutive start, said Staley, who indicated Dozier could be closer to a return.
“She’s not (practicing), but did some stuff on the side,” Staley said. “She’s in a much better place than she was a week ago, so hopefully she can continue to heal up. At this point, it’s just pain tolerance. Once that pain subsides, we’ll be happy to embrace her back in the lineup.”