The Power of One: Staley, Gamecocks not content with earning top seed

dcloninger@thestate.comMarch 22, 2014 

  • NO. 1 SEEDS

    The favorites in the NCAA women’s tournament:

    UCONN (34-0)

    No. 1 overall seed, defending national champions. They are led by Breanna Stewart, whose wingspan of nearly 7-feet makes her a big factor. A national title would be a record ninth.

    SOUTH CAROLINA (27-4)

    Dawn Staley has led the Gamecocks to their first No. 1 seed in school history. They’ll be out West for the first four rounds of the tournament playing in Seattle and Stanford if they advance.

    NOTRE DAME (32-0)

    By the way, they also entered the tournament undefeated. Senior leader Kayla

    McBride averaged 24.2 points and 6.6 rebounds in big games against Duke, Tennessee and Maryland.

    TENNESSEE (27-5)

    Coach Holly Warlick’s Lady Vols are trying to end a title drought in their home state – the Final Four is in Nashville. They have won eight titles and have been in all 33 NCAA women’s tourneys.

  • More information

    Gamecocks vs. Matadors

    WHO: USC (27-4) vs. Cal State Northridge (18-14)

    WHAT: NCAA tournament, Seattle pod

    WHEN: 5:30 p.m. Sunday

    WHERE: Alaska Airlines Arena, Seattle

    TV: ESPN

    RADIO: WNKT-FM 107.5

    USC’s probable starters: G Khadijah Sessions 5-8 So. (7.3 ppg, 1.5 rpg); G Asia Dozier 6-0 So. (6.0 ppg, 2.8 rpg); G Tiffany Mitchell 5-9 So. (15.2 ppg, 5.5 rpg); F Aleighsa Welch 6-0 Jr. (13.7 ppg, 7.5 rpg); C Elem Ibiam 6-4 Jr. (9.8 ppg, 6.3 rpg)

    Northridge’s probable starters: G Ashlee Guay 5-7 Jr. (16.3 ppg, 4.8 rpg); G Cinnamon Lister 5-5 Jr. (15.3 ppg, 2.2 rpg); G Janae Sharpe 5-7 Jr. (12.5 ppg, 5.0 rpg); F Randi Friess 6-0 Jr. (3.8 ppg, 5.0 rpg); C Camille Mahlknecht 6-2 Jr. (7.7 ppg, 7.3 rpg)

    NEXT: The winner plays Middle Tennessee or Oregon State at 9:30 p.m. Tuesday.

— It’s not about what they’ve done. It’s 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 didn’t happen just because of this season. The seeds were planted in that 10-win season six years ago and the following seasons when players didn’t 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 wouldn’t win right away.

All of it led to this.

The Gamecocks open the tournament Sunday as a No. 1 seed. They don’t 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 it’s a breath of fresh air, someone new. A lot of times, they go with tradition, and hopefully we’re starting a tradition where we continue to be No. 1 seeds.”

Staley knows how the women’s 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 A’ja 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 we’re definitely not satisfied having that No. 1 seed,” junior forward Aleighsa Welch said. “Now it’s a matter of being consistent. Toward the end of the season, we weren’t really too consistent. We can’t afford to do that.”

USC won three of its final five games, but didn’t 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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