South Carolina's women's basketball team has frustrated Mississippi State in recent years. The Gamecocks have won 11 consecutive games against the Bulldogs, none bigger than last season's NCAA title game in Dallas.
The stakes won't be that high when the teams meet Monday (ESPN2, 7 p.m. ET) in Starkville, Mississippi. But the Bulldogs, one of two undefeated teams in the country, get the opportunity to further cement their status as the SEC's top team and keep their perfect record intact in front of an advanced sell-out crowd at home.
South Carolina (18-4, 7-2 SEC) is trying to keep alive the chance of winning or tying for the SEC regular-season title for the fifth consecutive year. And, of course, both teams are also looking ahead at NCAA tournament seeding.
In the NCAA's most recent reveal of the top 16 seeds on Thursday, the Bulldogs (23-0, 9-0 SEC) were the No. 2 overall seed and the projected No. 1 seed in the Kansas City Region. The defending national champion Gamecocks were No. 7 overall, putting them on the No. 2 seed line.
South Carolina is coming off an 83-58 loss to No. 1 UConn at home on Thursday, a disappointing game that exposed weaknesses. But coach Dawn Staley also hopes it showed the Gamecocks some positive things to build on.
"Obviously, we didn't get the performance that we wanted," Staley said. "But in these types of games, you've got to take away what went well. We all know what went wrong.
"When you're not getting back, you're turning the ball over, you're giving them second opportunities to score points, and you're coming up with too many empty possessions -- once you have those lapses, it's hard to overcome."
The Gamecocks will face similar challenges against Mississippi State, which this year is the best offensive team Bulldogs coach Vic Schaefer says he has ever had. They've made 162 of 431 3-point attempts, compared to the Gamecocks' 112 of 328. The Bulldogs start four senior guards and a junior center, and they're averaging an SEC-best 85.0 points per game. The Gamecocks are second at 81.6.
Staley said that guard Lindsey Spann, who has been limited to 13 games this season with knee issues, possibly could be activated for Monday's game. Despite missing nine games, Spann is the Gamecocks' leader in 3-pointers, making 36 of 75. A shooter like her certainly would be a welcome addition against Mississippi State.
The Bulldogs are coming off one of their toughest games thus far: a 57-53 victory at Missouri that went down to the wire Thursday. The Bulldogs trailed by nine at halftime, just the second time this season they've been behind at the break.
Guard Blair Schaefer had a big game offensively (20 points) and defensively (drawing a crucial late charge against the Tigers). Center Teaira McCowan had 17 points and 17 rebounds, and guard Victoria Vivians had 15 points and hit the game-winning shot.
"My players continue to battle, to fight and to handle having that target on your back," said Vic Schaefer, who took over the Bulldogs in 2012.
He has elevated his program into a national contender in a relatively short time, but he hasn't beaten South Carolina yet; the Bulldogs' last victory in the series came in 2010.
Last year, the Gamecocks won the regular-season matchup 64-61 in Columbia, South Carolina. In the SEC tournament final in Greenville, South Carolina, the Gamecocks prevailed 59-49. Then, in the national championship game in Dallas, the Gamecocks won 67-55.
This meeting, though, is different. While South Carolina was considered the favorite over the past few years, Mississippi State will be in that role on Monday. A lot can happen in the SEC, of course, but the schedule is favorable for the Bulldogs to not just win their first SEC regular-season title, but maybe even do so undefeated. After South Carolina, the Bulldogs' lone remaining game against a team currently ranked is Texas A&M on Feb. 18 at home.
Meanwhile, South Carolina's losses this season all have been to ranked teams: Notre Dame, Missouri, Tennessee and UConn. After facing Mississippi State, the Gamecocks still have two games against teams currently ranked in the Top 25: at Georgia on Feb. 17, and at Tennessee in the regular-season finale on Feb. 25.
"We're getting some great experience, but we've got to win some games," Staley said. "We've gotta beat some ranked teams."