No. 21 South Carolina hosts in-state rival Furman at Colonial Life Arena on Sunday at 3 p.m.

The Gamecocks are looking to improve to 10-0 on the season, which would tie the school record for wins to open a season, which was originally set by the 1981-82 team en route to the program’s first NCAA Sweet 16 appearance. The defense has continued to shine this season as South Carolina has held seven of its nine opponents under 50 points this season to rank fifth in the nation in scoring defense. Sophomore forward Aleighsa Welch (Goose Creek) leads the SEC and is tied for eighth in the nation with five double-doubles in just nine games this season. She is the only player in the SEC averaging a double-double on the season (12.0 ppg/10.2 rpg)

Complete notes and video of head coach Dawn Staley previewing the game are available at:

Game information

Date: Sunday, Dec. 9

Time: 3 p.m.

Location: Columbia

Arena: Colonial Life Arena

Tickets: $7 adult, $4 youth (12 & under)

Parking: Free in Lot A (all others $5 due to event at Koger Center)

TV: SportSouth (Andy Demetra and Debbie Antonelli)

Radio: Radio: WISW 1320 AM (Brad Muller); GamecocksOnline.com Live Stats: GamecocksOnline.com Furman Series: SC leads 11-1; In Columbia: SC leads 8-0; In Greenville: SC leads 3-1; Neutral Site: Never Met

Notes

Fast break

South Carolina’s offense has been dominated by interior play so far this season. For the first time under head coach Dawn Staley, neither of the team’s top two scorers are guards as senior Ashley Bruner (12.0 ppg) and sophomore Aleighsa Welch (12.0 ppg) top the offense through nine games.

The Gamecocks have held seven of their nine opponents under 50 points this season. South Carolina ranks fifth in the nation in scoring defense and 19th in field goal percentage defense.

Sophomore forward Aleighsa Welch leads the SEC and is tied for eighth in the nation with five double-doubles in just nine games this season. In fact, she is the only player in the SEC averaging a double-double on the season (12.0 ppg, 10.2 rpg).

A South Carolina win would ...

Make the Gamecocks 10-0 to start the season, tying the 1981-82 team’s school-record season-opening mark. That team went on to make the program’s first NCAA Sweet 16 appearance.

Be the Gamecocks’ fifth straight over Furman, pushing their record against the Paladins to 12-1.

By the numbers

0 Points the Gamecocks allowed Drexel leading scorer Hollie Mershon in the final nine minutes of the game to key their comeback from a 14-point halftime deficit

1 Player in the SEC averaging a double-double this season — Aleighsa Welch (12.0 ppg/10.2 rpg)

2 Gamecocks posting a double-double at Seton Hall — Aleighsa Welch (14 pts/10 rebs) and Tiffany Mitchell (13 pts/11 rebs) — the first duo to turn the trick since March 4, 2010, against Ole Miss

3 Gamecocks who have posted a double-double this season — Aleighsa Welch (5), Ashley Bruner (1) and Tiffany Mitchell (1)

4 Games this season in which the Gamecocks have out-rebounded their opponent by 20 or more — vs. Florida Gulf Coast (+26; Nov. 24), vs. Hampton (+25; Nov. 22), vs. Savannah State (+24; Nov. 15) and Elon (+20; Nov. 9)

5 Double-doubles by sophomore forward Aleighsa Welch this season, the most in the SEC and tied for eighth in the nation

7 Games this season in which senior forward Ashley Bruner has led the team in either points or rebounds or both

7 Double-doubles recorded by the Gamecocks this season after last season’s squad posted just two

8 Games this season in which the Gamecocks have led at halftime after an 8-0 run to close the first half at Seton Hall turned a six-point deficit into a 24-22 advantage at the break

The Furman series

The Gamecocks and Paladins have met 12 times prior to today’s matchup with South Carolina holding an 11-1 advantage. After a 10-year break, the two teams restarted the in-state rivalry last season. The Gamecocks scored a 72-33 victory on Dec. 11, 2011, in that meeting at Colonial Life Arena. The Paladins’ lone win in the series was a 101-84 decision on Jan. 25, 1995, which was the last time the two teams met in Greenville.

Scouting the Paladins

Furman is 3-3 on the season after dropping a pair of road games last week at then-No. 8/9 Georgia and Chattanooga. The Paladins were without their second-leading scorer and top rebounder, Sarah Durdaller, in those two outings and do not expect her to return until after Christmas. With that loss, the offensive load rests with senior guard Teshia Griswold, who is pouring in 18.7 points per game and shooting 50.7 percent from the field, including a stunning 61.9 percent from 3-point range to rank fourth in the country. Sophomore forward Brittany Hodges has taken up the mantle on the rebounding side, pulling in 6.2 boards per game. Senior guard Kaitlin Murphy drives the offense with 3.8 assists per game, but she has turned the ball over 4.2 times per game as well. As a team, the Paladins are scoring 64.7 points per game on 37.8 percent shooting, including 30.3 percent from 3-point range. They have been out-rebounded by their opponents by 7.7 boards per game while giving up 76.5 points per game on 46.2 percent field goal shooting, including 34.2 percent from outside the arc. Head coach Jackie Carson is in her third season at her alma mater with a 32-35 record.

Gamecocks’ five-second count

With a complementary blend of youth and experience, South Carolina has opened the season 9-0 for the first time since the 1988-89 team also won its first nine contests. The Gamecocks have shown they have an array of offensive weapons and are dominant on the glass this season while the defense has dropped off very little from last season’s NCAA Tournament Sweet 16 effort. Three Gamecocks average double-figure points with three other netting six or more points per game. South Carolina ranks third in the nation with a +17.4 rebounding margin and has three players ranked among the SEC’s top 15 rebounders. Defensively, the Gamecocks have held seven of their nine opponents this season under 50 points and limited four of the nine to under 30 percent field goal shooting, including Hampton which hit just 19.3 percent (11-57) from the field for the second-lowest opponent field goal percentage of the Staley era.

Home sweet home

South Carolina is in its 11th season at Colonial Life Arena and enjoys a 109-55 (.664) record in that time. Overall, the Gamecocks are 353-152 all-time in home games. Since South Carolina first entered a conference in the 1983-84 season, the Gamecocks are 285-131 in non-conference home games. Head coach Dawn Staley has amassed a 43-22 home record in her fifth season at the helm, including a 26-5 mark in non-conference action.

Deciding in December

South Carolina has a 152-77 (.664) record all-time in the month of December, including a 20-7 (.741) record under fifth-year head coach Dawn Staley. In fact, December is the lone month during which Staley has had a winning record each of her first four seasons. The Gamecocks are 90-22 (.804) at home in the final month of the calendar year with a 51-17 (.750) mark at Colonial Life Arena. South Carolina is 33-30 in road games in December and 24-23 at neutral-site contests during the month.

Reading the rankings

South Carolina moved up to No. 21 in the USA Today Coaches’ Poll this week after making its season debut on the list last week. With a 9-0 record, including five games away from home, the Gamecocks are among the nation’s top 15 in RPI (varies depending on the organization). In the SEC, only Tennessee has a higher RPI than South Carolina. The Gamecocks’ strength of schedule will continue to build over the course of the season, beginning with No. 1 Stanford on the horizon on Wednesday, Dec. 19. The Cardinal are just one of the four teams currently in the national rankings that South Carolina has ahead — Georgia, Kentucky (will play twice) and Tennessee.

Going glass

Prior to the season, head coach Dawn Staley talked about her reservations about her team’s ability to rebound without the traditional physically imposing frontline. The Gamecocks have shaken off that criticism, and the team’s concerted effort to crash the boards has South Carolina ranking third in the nation in rebounding margin at +17.4. The Gamecocks have not been out-rebounded yet this season. In the Staley era, South Carolina has posted a +20 or better rebounding margin seven times, including four times this season, led by the Nov. 23 matchup against Florida Gulf Coast in which the Gamecocks out-boarded their opponent by 26. Against Clemson on Nov. 18, South Carolina faced a taller team for the first time and still snagged 18 more rebounds than the Lady Tigers.

Twice as nice

South Carolina forward Aleighsa Welch earned a spot on the 2012 SEC All-Freshman Team, but lacked a key resume bullet for forwards — a double-double. The sophomore has made up for last season’s missing ingredient by amassing five through the team’s first nine games this season. She leads the SEC in the category and is tied for eighth nationally. After narrowly missing the mark in the season opener, Welch picked up her first career double-double two games laster with a 13-point, 12-rebound effort against Savannah State (Nov. 15). She added two more at the Paradise Jam against Hampton (Nov. 22) and Florida Gulf Coast (Nov. 24) and tacked on her fourth against Drexel (Nov. 28). She made it four in five games with a 14-point/10-rebound effort at Seton Hall (Dec. 2). Welch leads the team and the SEC with six double-digit rebound games this season and also paces the Gamecocks in double-figure scoring outings with seven. The SEC leader in rebounds, she is currently averaging a double-double for the season - 12.0 points and 10.2 rebounds.

Posts up — spurs up

For the first time in the Dawn Staley era, neither of the team’s top two scorers are guards. Forwards Ashley Bruner and Aleighsa Welch have been an integral part in the team’s 9-0 start this season, averaging 12.0 points each. Bruner’s 52.2 percent field goal shooting slots her into sixth in the league, and Welch is hitting at a 65.6 percent clip, although she is five field goals shy of qualifying for the league standings in the category. Additionally, Welch leads the league with 10.2 rebounds per game, while Bruner comes in with 7.6. Both are especially proficient on the offensive glass, ranking first and seventh, respectively, in the league. More than half of Welch’s 92 total rebounds have come on the offensive end (48), while 47.1 percent of Bruner’s have come on a Gamecock miss. Welch has the second-highest single-game rebound total in the SEC this season with her career-high 15 against Drexel.

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