**Story by Jeff Owens/Photo by Allen Sharpe**
STOCKTON, Calif. — South Carolina players admit they don't know much about Quinnipiac, the Cinderella team of the NCAA Women's Tournament.
"I don't want to pronounce it. I don't want to mess it up," Gamecock forward A'ja Wilson said. "I just know that they are the Bobcats and (from) Connecticut."
"I just say QP — all those other letters got to go," teammate Kaela Davis said.
Quinnipiac, a 10,000-student school in Hamden, Conn., is 29-6 and the champions of the MAAC. And they have been the darlings of the NCAA Tournament, a No. 12 seed that has knocked off both No. 5 Marquette and No. 4 Miami. They are the lowest seed still remaining in the tournament — and the lowest in both the men's and women's tournaments.
But now the Bobcats face their most daunting challenge — playing No. 4-ranked South Carolina, the top seed in the Stockton Regional and a team with plenty of postseason experience.
"My goodness. I don't think there's enough time to run through the challenges that we're going to see tomorrow from Coach (Dawn) Staley and her team," Quinnipiac head coach Tricia Fabbri said.
"They are so talented. They are an elite program. You just start with the fact that the experience that they have here in this game and in this round, is first and foremost. The talent that they possess, from Wilson all the way down, right down the roster, how they score points. And really what's most impressive to the staff, as we have prepared, as we continue to prepare our team, is really how they defend. I think they are a really outstanding defensive ball club. So we have our hands full all day tomorrow."
South Carolina (29-4) has won seven straight games, sweeping through the SEC tournament and the first two rounds of the NCAA Tournament. The Gamecocks are in the Sweet 16 for the fourth straight season and favorites to reach the Final Four for the second time under Staley.
But they are not taking Quinnipiac (29-6) lightly. The Bobcats excel at sharing the ball and shooting from 3-point range. They hit 15 3s Monday against Miami to advance to the Sweet 16 for the first time in school history.
"Very skilled team. Very unselfish team," Staley said.
The Bobcats average 68.7 points per game and shot 52.8 percent from the field against Miami. Perhaps most impressively, they have dished out 44 assists on 56 field goals in their two tournament games.
"That is quite an incredible stat that jumps off the page," Staley said. "That's a team which loves to share the basketball. Makes it very difficult for the opponent. They love to get ahead of the possession. They get you rocking and rolling from a defensive standpoint. They are very poised and patient, and they wait until you make the mistake defensively and make you pay.
"So very tough, skilled, unselfish, and watching them play, not surprised that they are where they are."
Saturday's matchup will feature an explosive offensive team versus one of the best defensive teams in the country. Staley says her team will have to use its athleticism and up-tempo game to handle Quinnipiac.
"Speed has to be involved in playing them," Staley said. "They can't comfortably look you over and come off their screens, just play comfortable; shoot practice shots. When they are able to do that, they can beat anybody in the country.
"So we have to try to disrupt the pace in which they want to play and execute. And you know, you have to be committed to it for 40 minutes, because if you don't, they can very well win the game."
Her players know they cannot underestimate the Bobcats, or else they could wind up the next victim of an upset.
"Obviously, you can't take them lightly, at all," Davis said. "Obviously they are here for a reason and they have earned every single bit of that. The number next to their name, it means nothing, honestly. … We have to come out and be ready to play."
The Gamecocks have been in this situation before, advancing the the Final Four in 2015 and losing in an upset to Syracuse in last year's Sweet 16. That experience will help them against Quinnipiac.
"I think it's going to help us, but at the same time, it is March and crazy stuff happens in March," Wilson said. "It can help us, but at the same time, we really can't overlook them.
"We are going to go out and stick with our game plan and understand that we can't take any slack off. We just have to continue to be us."