COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — South Carolina is looking to launch its biggest celebration of the year Thursday night when it takes on Georgia.
The fourth-ranked Gamecocks (25-2, 13-1 SEC) can wrap up the outright Southeastern Conference championship with a victory and finish 16-0 at home.
Coach Dawn Staley said her players' focus has been as even-keeled as always, despite the good feelings that followed clinching a share of the SEC crown Sunday after 17th-ranked Texas A&M lost to No. 12 Kentucky.
"Obviously, there's a lot at stake and I'm quite sure our players understand that," Staley said Wednesday. "But in front of us, they've put up a united front and a focused look."
That's how South Carolina has risen all season long, particularly at home where they can complete their first undefeated season since going 11-0 in 1978-79.
This past Sunday, the Gamecocks drew 10,547 people — the second largest crowd for women's basketball since the 18,000-seat building opened in 2002 — to watch them earn a share of their first-ever SEC title with a 69-55 win over Florida.
About an hour later, Staley was smiling again when word of the Kentucky victory came in. Practices have been solid the past few days and Staley believes her team knows there's more work ahead.
Georgia, usually near the top of the SEC standings, has struggled after going 0-4 to start the league season. Staley says the Bulldogs will certainly try and play the role of spoilers and prevent South Carolina from celebrating at home at their expense.
"We're prepping our players to play the (Georgia) team that has been at the top," she said.
Should the Gamecocks come up short against Georgia (18-9, 6-8), they'll have a final chance to claim the title by themselves at No. 10 Tennessee on Sunday.
South Carolina is the league's only one-loss team. Texas A&M and Tennessee are next with three SEC losses each. The Gamecocks would need to lose both contests this week while one or both of its pursuers win out for a tie at the top.