One thousand three hundred and fifty seven: that's all that separates the South Carolina Gamecocks women's basketball team and the Sweet 16. 1,357 miles separate Colonial Life Arena from the Danny Sanford Premier Center in Sioux Falls, South Dakota where the NCAA Women's selection committee is sending the Gamecocks for the Sweet 16.
It'll be tough sledding up to Sioux Falls for the South Carolina natives, but that's the hand the selection committee dealt their number two overall seed. And while outsiders and fans can groan and gripe about the committee's slighting of the Gamecocks, it'll be all business for Dawn Staley and her women as they eye a second consecutive trip to the Women's Final Four.
With the first weekend of the NCAA Women's Basketball Tournament in the books, the Sweet 16 is set, and the Gamecocks now know what teams lay ahead and in their way of yet another Final Four appearance. Two of the other three teams in the Gamecocks' bracket are opponents they've already beaten once this season (Tennessee and Ohio St). As for the other, and their most immediate obstacle, the Syracuse Orange, they defeated in last year's second round.
Does any of that matter in the single-elimination, four team tournament?
But, a balanced attack between the South Carolina guard play and bigs will. The Gamecocks guards, led by Tiffany Mitchell, Bianca Cuevas and Khadijah Sessions have been showing off as of late.
While Mitchell was the MVP in the Gamecocks' first two tournament wins, the steady point guard play of Cuevas and Sessions provided an offensive efficiency seldom seen during the entirety of the Gamecock's season. The two point guards combined for just six total turnovers over the the weekend, while allotting for 14 points total in the Kansas St. victory.
Once turnover prone and often times out of control, Cuevas may be the team's most improved player. After a strong 2015 NCAA Tournament, Cuevas entered this year eyeing sole possession of the Gamecocks' #2 point guard, and she's done just that. The 2016 postseason has been a coming out of sorts for the sophomore. In the first two rounds she tallied up 16 points to go along with four steals and three assists.
While the front court play of A'ja Wilson and Alaina Coates have been the backbone of the Gamecocks' dominant season, South Carolina can't overlook the importance guard play will have on the outcome of their postseason run.
That starts Friday night against the press-happy Syracuse Orange. The Orange pressure averages just under 25 forced turnovers per game, and it'll be up to Sessions and Cuevas to handle the heat if the Gamecocks wish to play another round.