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Unbeaten USC women play at Vanderbilt

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Unbeaten USC women play at Vanderbilt

Dawn Staley's second-ranked and unbeaten South Carolina women's team plays at 9 p.m. Thursday at Vanderbilt. (AP Photo/Sean Rayford)

It gets handed off from one squad to another, like some priceless, invisible baton. The South Carolina men’s team did its part this week, going on the road to keep alive the school’s undefeated basketball run. Now the women will try do the same thing.

South Carolina ran its SEC-record combined basketball mark to 27-0 with Tuesday’s victory at Auburn by the 22nd-ranked men’s squad. The second-ranked Gamecocks women carry that streak Thursday night into Vanderbilt, where they’ll be the highest-ranked opponent in eight years to visit Memorial Gym.

“We’ve both got to carry our loads,” said forward A’ja Wilson, USC’s leading scorer at 17.1 points per game. “It’s exciting.”

South Carolina is the only school with both its men’s and women’s teams still undefeated. The Gamecocks are one of three remaining unbeaten women’s teams in Division I, along with Texas and Connecticut. The lone undefeated men’s teams in Division I are USC and SMU.

“It’s a great thing. We’ve worked hard. (Men’s coach) Frank (Martin) and his team have worked hard to be where they are today,” said women’s coach Dawn Staley.

“I’m just happy for Frank, I’m happy for us, I’m happy that the fans are happy and (we’re) sharing some of the spotlight with the football team and making this an all-sports state. There’s room for all of us.”

The USC women (13-0, 1-0 SEC) opened conference play Sunday at home with a 53-point victory over Arkansas, their second-largest margin of victory ever in an SEC regular-season game. Vanderbilt (11-3, 0-1) had a 10-game winning streak snapped by an Ole Miss buzzer-beater, but still ranks seventh nationally in points allowed per game.

“It’s always a knock-down, drag-out when we go there,” Staley said of the 9 p.m. game. “For us, I just think we need to play fast, just get up and down the floor and let our speed get involved in the offense.”

USC starting guard Asia Dozier, who missed the Arkansas game undergoing concussion protocol following a blow to the head in practice, is back at full speed, Staley said. And redshirt freshman guard Doniyah Cliney was fully cleared this week after missing the first half of the season with an injury to her right hand which required surgery.

“She’ll have a lot of rust on her,” Staley said of Cliney. “She hasn’t played a game since high school. But she’s been around us for the past year and a half, so she kind of knows the ropes.”

And the USC women know it’s their turn to keep South Carolina’s combined winning streak going.

“We’re big fans of our men’s team, and we’re proud of what coach Frank Martin is doing what the team, and what the boys are doing,” said senior point guard Khadijah Sessions. “They support us just as well, on and off the court. We cheer hard for each other.”

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