TAMPA — When you're the reigning two-time Southeastern Conference player of the year, you're used to getting everybody's best shot every time you step on the court.
That's the world Tiffany Mitchell has found herself in. So forgive the South Carolina junior guard if she's not intimidated by the highly-anticipated showdown between herself and Notre Dame junior guard Jewell Loyd in tonight's NCAA Tournament national semifinal. By now, she's battle tested.
"I feel like it definitely helps me now," Mitchell said. "The SEC I feel like is the toughest conference in college basketball, so it definitely prepares me — and the team — for a game like this. I'm used to everybody playing us tough. They (Notre Dame) are a little more experienced being on this type of stage, but we've just go to settle in and play basketball. "
It's that mentality — on and off the court — that has made Mitchell such a leader for the Gamecocks, who are playing in their first Final Four, and endeared by teammates, particularly freshman A'ja Wilson.
"She's just a great person," Wilson said. "And I think that's what carries her a long way. She's not snooty, and she takes it (being targeted by opponents) all in. She's human and she gets frustrated sometimes, I'm sure, but you really don't see it because that's just how Tiffany is. And then her game is just amazing.
"Tiffany is pretty unstoppable, I think, in my eyes. And I think that's what people see in her. People go out and give her their best shot because they know who she is, but she just gives them her better shot, and that's what makes her great as a competitor."
Mitchell, South Carolina's first All-American from Charlotte, N.C., has started every game the past two seasons and is averaging 15 points and five assists in NCAA Tournament play. She said she's not getting caught up in the tournament hype, and expects the Gamecocks to come out tonight and play like a team on a mission.
"We really have no reason to hold back, especially at this time of the year, " she said. "It's win or go home, we have two games left in our season. So if you're not leaving it out on the court, then I don't know what you're saving it for.
"I think we're in a really good place," she added. ''We're riding that wave after two tough games against UNC and Florida State (in the Sweet 16 and Elite Eight), and we pulled those out so I feel like we're pretty good coming into this game.
"A lot of people don't have us winning this game, so we switched into an underdog role and we'll use that as motivation."
Contact Antonya English at email@example.com. Follow@TBTimes_Gators