COLUMBIA, SC (WIS) - While many families will be at home enjoying the company of one another this Thanksgiving, Dawn Staley and the Gamecocks will be on a business trip in Florida.
The defending national champions will be in action for three straight days in the Gulf Coast Showcase.
"It's a great trip with great competition," said Gamecocks head coach Dawn Staley. "That's why we scheduled it. We didn't know who we were going to play. We knew the list of teams that were going to be in it, but now that we know who we play, the brackets, and how they are set up, it's a quality tournament and, hopefully, we're playing for the championship on Sunday."
USC will open the three-day showcase on Friday taking on Hall of Fame coach C. Vivian Stringer and the Rutgers Scarlet Knights. Like the Gamecocks, the Scarlet Knights will enter the contest 4-0. Stringer's squad is holding opponents to an average of just under 59 points while forcing nearly 25 turnovers per game.
"They're definitely an aggressive team," said Gamecocks guard Lindsey Spann. "They play defense for 40 minutes, all game long. They're going to be in your face. They're going to be active. They're loud. They're jumpy. They're all over the floor. They press a lot so we have definitely have to take care of the ball, stay disciplined, play within our offense, things like that."
"They're pressing," added Staley. "They're pressing after every made basket, every dead ball. They're just playing really confidently and they're playing a lot of players so everybody feels like they're a part of the team when you have that kind of situation. They're always amped up to play."
On Saturday, the Gamecocks will take on either St. John's or Western Michigan. Sunday will see Carolina face East Tennessee State, Notre Dame, South Florida, or Washington State. With the level of competition being so high in this showcase, the Gamecocks will have their work cut out for them this weekend.
"It's what we want," said Staley. "It builds character for us. It gets us ready to play in March at the SEC Tournament. I like the competition. I like the fact that it's a three-game tournament, but we don't have a whole lot of bodies. So, hopefully, we can take care of business."
While the trip will be a grueling grind for the Gamecocks, it'll also give the team a chance to continue to come together ahead of their four-game homestand.
"It's definitely important for us to build that team chemistry on and off the court," said Spann, "playing in another environment, kind of like a tournament environment. Having to play three games in three days is definitely going to be a good test for us, I think, preparing us for some of those tough games we have in SEC plays, whether it be (having) only a one-day break in between games or things like that.
"And just enjoying each other's company off the court, having dinner with one another, and being in a hotel with one another, going to the mall or whatever other opportunities we get outside of the basketball element, it's going to be great for this team. So, we're going to have a lot of fun."
The Gamecocks will take on Rutgers at 1:30 p.m. on Friday at Germain Arena.