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South Carolina looks to erase SEC disappointment in NCAAs

(AP Photo/Richard Shiro)

By STEVE REED

AP Sports Writer

CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) South Carolina coach Dawn Staley is confident the fourth-seeded Gamecocks "can beat anybody" in the NCAA Tournament - if they figure out a way to play defense.

That didn't happen in a stunning 95-89 loss to Arkansas in the Southeastern Conference Tournament quarterfinals, abruptly ending her team's hopes of winning a fifth straight title.

It was the most points allowed in the Staley era, and it clearly was still bothering her as the Gamecocks (21-9) went through preparations for their first round NCAA Tournament game against No. 13 seed Belmont (26-6) on Friday.

"We had no ball pressure and we weren't dictators on defense," Staley said. "They were just driving it down our throats. The adjustments that we tried to make just didn't work out. We tried box-and-one, we tried a 2-3 zone, we tried straight man and we tried help and recover."

Staley said the attitude and intensity has picked up tremendously in practice this week.

She talked extensively to her players about the loss to Arkansas - a No. 10 seed in the SEC Tournament - saying it was "unacceptable" to lose as early as they did.

"Nobody likes losing," Staley said. "If you are going to take in the same effort and preparation that you did prior to losing you are setting yourself up for failure."

South Carolina guard Te'a Cooper heard that message loud and clear.

"Coach stressed ball pressure and competing and communicating loud and effectively," Cooper said.

The South Carolina/Belmont winner moves on the face the No. 5 seed Florida State/No. 12 seed Bucknell winner on Sunday.

CHARLOTTE PLAYS HOST

The first two rounds will be played at Halton Arena on the campus of UNC Charlotte. Normally the 15th-ranked Gamecocks would have hosted the first two rounds in Columbia, South Carolina, but since the arena is being used for the men's tournament they had to switch locations.

COOPER FEELING BETTER

If there is one benefit to losing in the SEC quarterfinals for South Carolina it's that Cooper, the team's leading scorer, has had more time to rest here sprained left ankle. She said she was about "80 percent" in the SEC Tournament, but added the injury is no longer a factor.

"I did have a lot of time to get treatment and recover and strengthen my ankle," Cooper said. "I'm back."

BELMONT LOOKS FOR FIRST NCAA WIN

Belmont has won fourth straight Ohio Valley Conference championships, but the Bruins are still looking for their first NCAA Tournament win.

Coach Bart Brooks said it be "awesome" to upset South Carolina.

"We would throw a party and celebrate," Brooks said. "There is a reason why we have not won as a program. It's because we are usually playing teams like South Carolina on their home floor. We understand this is a huge challenge and huge test ... I hope they miss a bunch of shots."

NO CASE OF SENIORITIS

Florida State (23-8) has finished in the top 15 in the AP Poll in each of the past four seasons, but enters its first round game against Bucknell ranked 25th in the country. Part of that slip is because Seminoles coach Sue Semrau had to replace all five starters from last season.

They are the eighth-youngest team in the country with an average age of 19.4 - and there are no seniors on the roster.

The Seminoles will start three juniors and two freshmen in guard Morgan Jones and freshmen Valencia Myers. The six players coming off the bench are either freshmen or sophomores.

"I haven't had to change all that much, which is a credit to these young women," Semrau said.

The Seminoles are led by first team All-ACC performer Kiah Gillespie, a junior forward who averages 16.2 points and 9.0 rebounds per game.

BISONS CAN SHOOT

Bucknell (28-5) earned its highest NCAA Tournament seed in school history. Bucknell has never won an NCAA Tournament game.

Still, Semrau views Bucknell as a dangerous team, even refusing to look ahead and answer a question about a potential second round matchup with South Carolina.

"Everybody on the floor can shoot," Semrau said of the Bison. "We have our hands full."

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Updated March 21, 2019

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