COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — Dawn Staley likes No. 10 South Carolina's start to the year and, with a few tweaks, believes the Gamecocks can continue the run into Southeastern Conference season.
South Carolina has opened 9-0 for a second straight season and is ranked its highest since 2002. While Staley's teams have long been built on pressure defense, the Gamecocks have shown such an ability to score that they are one of the Southeastern Conference's top offenses.
"I know that any of us can produce at any time," leading scorer Tiffany Mitchell said. "So they should be aware of us at all times."
Mitchell has averaged 15 points a game, heading up four Gamecocks in double figure scoring. South Carolina leads the SEC and is fifth nationally with .503 shooting percentage.
Staley's glad to see the points. She just wishes it was accompanied by the in-your-face defense she played during most of her Hall-of-Fame career.
"We forced our program to be a defensive minded team because we didn't have players that could score the ball," Staley said. "Now we're constantly trying to teach our defensive philosophy. Slowly, but surely, we're getting there."
The Gamecocks figure to need the defense to kick in Wednesday night when they take on No. 14 North Carolina (8-2) at the Myrtle Beach Convention Center. The teams have played there seven times since the 2000-01 season in connection with an area high school holiday tournament.
South Carolina ended the Tar Heels four-game series win streak two years ago with a 79-48 victory on the Grand Strand. This time, it's North Carolina looking to pull the surprise over a team in the top 10 for the first time since 2002.
Mitchell said the Gamecocks haven't thought much about the perfect start or the high ranking.
"It's not something coach Staley's going to let us get a big head about," said Mitchell, a sophomore.
Especially when there's so many bigger games ahead. South Carolina is among five SEC teams in the Top 25, three of those among the top 10. That means, Staley said, that each South Carolina opponent will have similarly skilled players drilled on stopping the Gamecocks offensive success.