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NCAAW Preview: It’s No. 2 South Carolina’s speed vs. No. 21 Tennessee’s backcourt versatility

The No. 2 South Carolina Gamecocks are poised to be a No. 1 seed. With key wins down the stretch, they could claim the No. 1 seed overall. But first, they have a big challenge: take care of the No. 21 Tennessee Lady Volunteers.

COLLEGE BASKETBALL: MAR 08 SEC Women’s Tournament - Mississippi State vs South Carolina
Destanni Henderson (with ball) is as quick as they come at getting to the basket.
Photo by John Byrum/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The No. 2 South Carolina Gamecocks have bounced back from their Feb. 8 loss to the UConn Huskies with wins over the Missouri Tigers (Feb. 11) and LSU Tigers (Feb. 14).

Now, the Gamecocks must faced ranked competition again, starting with the No. 21 Tennessee Lady Volunteers at 7 p.m. ET on Thursday night (SEC Network).

Going against a Lady Vols team that also gave UConn all it could handle and also previously defeated the No. 14 Indiana Hoosiers, No. 18 Arkansas Razorbacks and No. 17 Kentucky Wildcats will be a challenge. But it is also a chance for South Carolina to improve upon its impressive 4-2 record against currently ranked teams.

While UConn is unlikely to lose again before the NCAA Tournament (only Big East teams stand in its way), South Carolina is still playing for the No. 1 overall seed. If the Gamecocks get big resume wins over Tennessee, Kentucky and No. 5 Texas A&M, plus an SEC Tournament Championship, head coach Dawn Staley’s team may not need UConn to lose to claim that top spot.

Tennessee, on the other hand, was a 4-seed in the NCAA’s Top 16 reveal on Monday night; the Lady Vols also were fortunate to be the No. 13 overall team despite being No. 15 in the NET rankings and No. 21 in the AP poll. Still, Tennessee has one more ranked team on its schedule and that’s the No. 22 Georgia Bulldogs (on Sunday, Feb. 21). A win would help head coach Kellie Harper’s squad improve its resume in the SEC Tournament.

The Lady Vols could completely change their season, though, with a win over the mighty Gamecocks to ensure they are looking really good entering that tournament. Tennessee also needs to bounce back from those losses to Kentucky and Texas A&M.

South Carolina sophomore Aliyah Boston has recorded double-digit rebounds in 12 of her last 14 games and she is best player for the Gamecocks. Boston will be going up against a fellow blocking queen in Tennessee’s Tamari Key, at center.

Another good matchup will be Zia Cooke against Rennia Davis, if one or other is given the assignment to guard the other. Davis can play multiple positions for Tennessee and she could be tasked with trying to slow down the offensive juggernaut that Cooke is for South Carolina.

One of Tennessee’s strengths is its tall backcourt of Jordan Horston (6’2”), Rae Burrell (6’1”) and Davis (6’2”). But South Carolina can counter with the speed of Cooke (15.7 points per game) and point guard Destanni Henderson (5.5 assists per game).

Game Information

No. 2 South Carolina Gam,ecocks (17-2, 12-0 SEC) vs. No. 21 Tennessee Lady Volunteers (12-5, 6-3 SEC)

When: Thursday, Feb. 18 at 7 p.m. ET

Where: Thompson-Boling Arena in Knoxville, TN

How to watch/listen: SEC Network on ESPN/Gamecock All-Access or Tennessee’s athletics site

Key to the matchup: Defense. Rennia Davis’ length could give the South Carolina offense problems. On the other side, South Carolina has a very good defense, making this one interesting. The Gamecocks will want to focus on their strength — 3-point-percentage defense — as they look to shut down a Lady Vol team that attempts more threes than they do. South Carolina holds opponents to 26.2-percent shooting from deep, which is good for 23rd in the nation. Tennessee, however, needs to be disciplined on defense because South Carolina gets to the line a lot more than Tennessee and its other opponents in general. The Lady Vols, meanwhile, have a tendency to send opponents to the line more than they get there. So, the Lady Vols will need to clean that up to have a good shot at an upset.

Reason to watch: South Carolina’s SEC winning streak gets more impressive with each game. See if the Gamecocks can extend that streak to 32-straight.