It’s the sign of respect, and previous dominance, that any team that goes on a multi-year run in the SEC will be compared to Tennessee. The Lady Vols have been so good for so long (even last year’s shocking regular season ended in the Elite Eight) that they’ll forever be the gold (orange?) standard.
So when South Carolina, three-time regular-season champ and favorite to win a fourth, posts a 45-3 record over three seasons and has won 22 straight against SEC competition, is it accurate or fair to compare the Gamecocks to Tennessee?
“I think we’ve been fairly successful the last few years, but Tennessee has decades and decades of success,” coach Dawn Staley said at SEC Tipoff on Thursday. “We’re starting to build a tradition. The tradition has already been set at Tennessee. But I’d rather us be in this conversation than any other school in the league.”
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The Gamecocks have been the queens of the league for three seasons, which is beyond dispute. They matched the 2010-11 Tennessee season as the only teams to ever go 19-0 against the SEC (regular season and tournament champions) and matched Auburn and Tennessee as the only SEC teams to win three straight regular-season crowns.
If the Gamecocks win a fourth, they’ll join 1998-04 Tennessee as the only teams to win at least that many in a row, although they’d have to get three more after that to tie that Lady Vols run. But the Gamecocks are already owners of the best three-year league mark in SEC history (45-3), which topped 2010-12 Tennessee’s mark of 43-5.
Comparisons are there, but the Lady Vols are SEC women’s basketball.
For now, anyway.
“I think that’s something big, because Tennessee’s always been that team in the SEC that was really good and everyone focused on,” preseason player of the year A’ja Wilson said. “Being in that role now means that we have a target on our back and we have to handle it kind of the same way Tennessee did. They handled it very well.”
Staley doesn’t mention any comparisons to Tennessee to her team. She doesn’t believe them, most of all, but she also doesn’t want the Gamecocks to rest on their previous laurels.
As magnificent as the last three years have been, USC still has unfinished business. A bitter Sweet 16 defeat last year denied the Gamecocks a second straight Final Four, and if comparisons to Tennessee are going to be made, they start there. The Lady Vols won eight Final Fours.
That’s eight more than USC.
“I haven’t heard it, but I know last year, with the whole 19-0 thing … the only other team was Tennessee,” senior Alaina Coates said. “At some point in any period of time, somebody’s going to do it.
“It was our time and it is our time. We’re still trying to make history here.”
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SEC Preseason Media Poll
1. South Carolina
2. Mississippi State
6. Texas A&M
14. Ole Miss