In its first game since Saturday, the USC Aiken women’s basketball team will return to action tonight against a familiar opponent. The Pacers, who moved up to No. 3 in the latest USA Today/ESPN Division II Coaches Poll, will travel to Cuddy Arena on the campus of Wingate University in North Carolina for a rematch with the Bulldogs. Tip-off is scheduled for 7 p.m.


In its second game of the season, about three weeks ago, USCA thrashed Wingate 72-49 at the Convocation Center. In that game, it used a balanced effort to run past the Bulldogs. Four Pacers (5-0) scored in double figures, led by Daniela Tarailo’s 19. She hit three shots during a 14-3 run to open the second half that put the game out of reach. Point guard Brittany Hill also had a big game, contributing 15 points, seven assists and a career-best seven steals.


Both players are averaging better than 10 points a game this season, but the Pacers are led by Kayla Harris. The All-American forward leads USCA with averages of 17.8 points and 7.4 rebounds per game. And while the Pacers have shown the ability to be prolific on offense, the reason their ranked so high for the first time in program history is because of their work on defense. They’re limiting opponents to an average of 50 points per game on just 32 percent shooting from the field. Every victory has been by a double-digit margin, with Saturday’s 59-47 triumph over Benedict the closest contest to date.


In the early-season win over Wingate (5-3), the Bulldogs had a rough day shooting. They only connected on 17 of 45 shots, including a woeful 3-for-12 from 3-point range. Even when Wingate wasn’t defended, it still struggled, making only 12 of 26 free throws.


The Bulldogs will need their best performance of the season if they’re going to pull off an upset tonight. And while it isn’t likely from a team that’s been so inconsistent, the Bulldogs have showed they’re capable. Just three days after the 23-point loss to USCA, Wingate went to then 20th-ranked Lander and pulled off a 57-56 upset. The tandem of Janitsha Williams and Chantal Dunbar were huge, combining for 29 points and 18 rebounds.


They’ll have to be at the very least that good if the Bulldogs can seriously entertain knocking off the Pacers. Williams and Dunbar have been primarily complimentary players this season, with Morgan McGee and Sarah Wollett the top scorers. But McGee (15 ppg) and Wollett (13 ppg) were held well below their combined season average in the loss to USCA, posting 16 points between the two of them. They’ll also need to be at their best to force the Pacers into a tight competition for 40 minutes.


The biggest question this game is how will USCA fare in its first road game of the season. The Pacers have been nearly unbeatable for more than two years at the Convocation Center, so it will be interesting to see how this squad does in its first game outside of Aiken. The good news for the Pacers is their defense is so good, it shouldn’t matter where they’re playing.


Noah Feit is the sports editor for the Aiken Standard and has been a professional journalist for more than a dozen years after graduating from Syracuse University.


Today’s Game


What: USC Aiken women’s basketball


Who: No. 3 USCA (5-0) at Wingate (5-3)


When: Today, 7 p.m.


Where: USCA Convocation Center


STAR WATCH


USCA: Brittany Hill, Jr., G. Hill has been a solid scorer for the Pacers, averaging 10 points per game this season, and is coming off a 17-point performance.


Wingate: Morgan McGee, Fr., F/C. McGee has had an immediate impact as a freshman, averaging 15 points and 7 rebounds per game.