Dawn Staley sounded perturbed after Sunday’s loss, and she should have. She never saw the contest as a meaningless game, even though the outcome would neither help nor hurt the No. 4 Gamecocks for the SEC tournament.
It was a chance to get better. With at most three games this week, then nearly two weeks off before an NCAA tournament game, she wants her players to be as sharp as possible.
They weren’t. Staley could forgive sloppy games against Florida and Georgia, because USC won. At least the same fight and courage that had been there all season was still there.
Against Tennessee, the opponent was the aggressor. The Gamecocks were taken out of what they wanted to do from the start. They backed down from the Volunteers’ speed and inside presence, and Staley didn’t want to brush this off as one bad game.
In the Gamecocks’ other two losses this year, they fought throughout. USC kept churning against North Carolina despite losing point guard Khadijah Sessions. It roared back to force overtime against Texas A&M despite trailing 17 at the half.
The Vols slapped USC around. USC shrugged and said, “OK.”
One bad game in March can lead to other bad games. After a marvelous regular season, the last thing Staley wanted to see was a bad game when the opponents will only get better.