SEATTLE — Its not about what theyve done. Its about what they hope to keep doing.
South Carolina earned a No. 1 seed for the NCAA tournament when most predicted they would slip to a No. 2. Among the congratulations and the celebratory moments, coach Dawn Staley had a reflection.
She knew this didnt happen just because of this season. The seeds were planted in that 10-win season six years ago and the following seasons when players didnt take to her coaching and she reassessed her style. It also came from the players who chose to stay, fight and improve when they knew they wouldnt win right away.
All of it led to this.
The Gamecocks open the tournament Sunday as a No. 1 seed. They dont know how long it will last, but they want to keep it there as long as possible this year and in future years.
I think it does start with getting No. 1 seeds, Staley said, mentioning heavyweights Tennessee, UConn and Notre Dame, who also are No. 1 seeds this year. I think its a breath of fresh air, someone new. A lot of times, they go with tradition, and hopefully were starting a tradition where we continue to be No. 1 seeds.
Staley knows how the womens game works. There are the elite UConn, Tennessee, Stanford and then a group of about 10 very strong teams every year including Notre Dame, Baylor, Texas A&M, North Carolina, Duke and others that cycle in and out. Below that are the good teams from year to year, those that never quite hit those next two ceilings.
The Gamecocks have gone from good to strong to elite.
Staley wants this to be just the start. It could be as the Gamecocks lose one senior this year, and their recruiting class is ranked fourth in the nation. That number could improve if they land No. 1 national prospect Aja Wilson, who has USC among her four finalists.
Either way, the Gamecocks look to be a force next year and beyond. But Staley wants to prove that this No. 1 ranking was no fluke.
I think were definitely not satisfied having that No. 1 seed, junior forward Aleighsa Welch said. Now its a matter of being consistent. Toward the end of the season, we werent really too consistent. We cant afford to do that.
USC won three of its final five games, but didnt play as strongly. The past two games where the Gamecocks really showed what they are capable of were over a month ago, in back-to-back blowout wins at LSU and Kentucky.
The Gamecocks have scrapped to wins since.
Returning to their previous level o consistency will reinforce why the Gamecocks deserved the No. 1 seed.
We had some great highs, and we had some really low lows, Welch said. I think the great teams for instance, UConn have been very consistent. We just want to make sure we continue to do that for the rest of this season and carrying on into next season.
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