GAME PREVIEW: Gamecocks host Virginia at CLA with late tipoff

COLUMBIA, SC (WIS) - Information from the South Carolina Athletics Department: 

GAME INFO

Date: Sun., March 18, 2018

Tipoff: 9 p.m.

Location: Columbia, S.C.

Arena: Colonial Life Arena (18,000)

Tickets: $12 Single Session

Watch: ESPN (Paul Sunderland, play-by-play; Steffi Sorensen, analyst)

Radio: 107.5 The Game (Brad Muller)

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COLUMBIA, S.C. — No. 7/7 South Carolina advanced to the second round of the NCAA Tournament for the seventh time in as many seasons under head coach Dawn Staley and will take on their mentor's alma mater, 10th-seed Virginia, on Sun., Mar. 18, at Colonial Life Arena. Tipoff is set for 9 p.m. with the game airing on ESPN.

SOUTH CAROLINA NOTABLES

>>  Tonight's game pits South Carolina head coach Dawn Staley against her alma mater, Virginia, where she recorded a legendary career in leading the Cavaliers to three NCAA Final Fours while earning ACC Player of the Year honors twice (1991, 1992) and National Player of the Year recognition from Sports Illustrated (1991) and becoming the first NCAA Final Four Most Oustanding Player from the non-championship team. The Gamecocks' mentor has played her alma mater twice while she was the head coach at Temple – both while her former head coach Debbie Ryan led the Cavaliers. Virginia captured both meetings in Charlottesville, eking out a 72-71 victory in the first meeting (12/28/03) and holding on for a 71-65 win in the last meeting (11/29/06).

>> The Gamecocks are vying for their sixth Sweet 16 berth in the last seven seasons. South Carolina has advanced to its regional site in each of the previous three seasons that it hosted opening-round games. The Cavaliers have not reached the Sweet 16 since 2000.

>> Tonight's game features the ACC and SEC's top shot blockers in Virginia's Felicia Aiyeotan (2.1) and South Carolina's A'ja Wilson (3.3). Aiyeotan has blocked five or more shots in three games this season, with a season-high six blocks coming in back-to-back games against Maryland and UNCG. Wilson seven games of five or more blocks, including a career-high tying eight at Temple.

>>  Junior Alexis Jennings has locked in on rebounding in postseason action, averaging 7.5 boards since the start of the SEC Tournament. She opened the stretch with 12 boards against #12/12 Tennessee (Mar. 2) and picked up 10 in the NCAA opener against NC A&T (Mar. 16).

>> Junior Doniyah Cliney is averaging 8.5 points in postseason action (SEC and NCAA Tournaments), including six points in the fourth quarter against NC A&T. She scored the Gamecocks' first four points of the period then drove for a layup late to help hold the Aggies at bay.

>> Freshman Bianca Jackson opened her NCAA Tournament career with a bang, scoring 13 of her 16 points against NC A&T in the first half, including nine on 3-of-3 shooting from 3-point range in the first quarter.

BY THE NUMBERS

3 Gamecocks ranked among the SEC's top 15 in blocked shots average, led by Wilson's SEC-best 3.4

6 Gamecocks averaging at least 7.0 points in postseason play (SEC and NCAA Tournaments)

16 Assists needed by sophomore guard Tyasha Harris to tie the 34-year-old single-season school record

28 Double-digit scoring games for A'ja Wilson in her 30 games played this season, including 22 double-doubles

508 Made free throws by the Gamecocks this season, which rank fifth in program history with the top five all coming in the last five seasons

VIRGINIA SERIES NOTES

South Carolina is 2-0 all-time against North Carolina A&T with both meetings coming prior to the Dawn Staley era for the Gamecocks. The most recent matchup of Gamecocks and Aggies was also in the postseason as South Carolina hosted NC A&T in the WNIT on March 21, 2008, posting a 102-74 victory. The teams first met on Nov. 17, 2006, in Columbia with a 117-63 decision in South Carolina's favor.

NCAA TOURNAMENT TALLY

The Gamecocks and Cavaliers have met five times in program history with Virginia holding a 3-2 lead in the series. The last meeting between the two schools was a narrow 66-64 South Carolina victory in Columbia on Nov. 15, 2007. The other more recent meting was a 66-49 decision for the Cavaliers on their home court on Jan. 2, 2005. The first three meetings of the series took place in the early 1980s.

HISTORY LESSON

The Gamecocks continued to make history in the Dawn Staley era this season as South Carolina became the first team in league history to win four straight SEC Tournament championships. The team's lone four-year senior, A'ja Wilson, did not lose a game at the event in her career with eight of the 12 games coming against nationally ranked foes. Prior to the tournament, Wilson made her own history as the league's first three-time SEC Player of the Year – an impressive feat in a league that boasts players like WNBA greats Sylvia Fowles, Candace Parker, Seimone Augusts, Tamika Catchings and Chamique Holdsclaw, just to name a few. Wilson added co-Defensive Player of the Year honors this season as well, marking the second time in her career (2016, 2018) and just the third time in league history that some one both titles in the same season (Fowles 2008). A Gamecock has been the SEC Player of the Year tfor the last five seasons. Wilson also joined an elite group of players who earned First-Team All-SEC honors all four years of her career. She is the eighth entry on that list and the first since Georgia's Tasha Humphrey completed her stretch 2005-08. Following the SEC Tournament, Wilson drew National Player of the Year honors from USA Today Sports and espnW – the first Gamecock ever to carry that moniker.

ON THE MARCH

With seven program career records already to her credit, A'ja Wilson and sophomore Tyasha Harris have their eyes on a pair single-season records that are within reach as the season winds down. Wilson's 22 double-doubles this season are three off Katrina Anderson's 25 in 1977-78 and are tied for third (Denise Nanney, 22 in 1974-75) in program history. Sheila Foster (23 in 1980-81) is also between Wilson and that record. Harris broke the program record for assists in an SEC season with her 104 cruising past the previous record of 87 (Cristina Ciocan in 2001-02). In fact, with 164 assists in SEC play in her career, Harris is already third in the program standings in that category. Her 203 assists overall this season are 16 shy of Mindy Ballou's single-season school record of 219.