She didn’t have to say much. The hurt over losing spoke volumes.
“We get right back up,” South Carolina coach Dawn Staley said Wednesday. “Win or lose, that game really doesn’t have any bearings on us and our goals that we need. So we get a chance to get back out there and play in one of the toughest leagues in the country.”
The No. 6 Gamecocks lost to No. 1 UConn and it stung. USC had a great chance to pull off the upset and for the first 18 minutes, it showed why.
The final 22 minutes didn’t go the Gamecocks’ way, so they took a day to regroup then re-focused on their immediate goals: the SEC regular-season championship, which would be their fourth in a row; a fourth consecutive top seed in the SEC Tournament; staying in that top four projection for the NCAA Tournament.
All of it re-starts on Thursday against Vanderbilt.
Staley’s crew has heard from the online critics who panned what the team didn’t do at UConn.
“We do got a lot of coaches out there that want to coach our basketball team,” she quipped. “But you can’t just coach on game days. Got to get in here, got to coach on waking up, losing to a team and then getting them back, psychologically.
“Be fans, don’t be coaches, because there’s a lot that goes into coaching. It’s just not X’s and O’s.”
It involves stressing to the team that a championship can still be won without putting undue pressure on it. It involves not overlooking a Vanderbilt team that’s 2-10 in the SEC.
“They’re the last-place team, but they don’t play like it,” Staley said.
USC is working on its issues – transition defense, which would be greatly helped by not turning the ball over, and getting the guards to drive to the basket more when they’re not hitting from outside. It’s encouraging center Alaina Coates to be the force she can be all the time.
The Gamecocks have a hole card for Thursday in director of coaching offensive analytics Melanie Balcomb. She came to Columbia after resigning as Vanderbilt’s coach, and signed most of that team.
“She recruited a lot of them,” Staley said. “She gives us little nuances on what she saw and why she recruited them and things they’re really good at.”
USC is still a very talented team that’s won 21 of 24 games. The best part of it is there’s another game to play, and the best is yet to come.
“I know a lot of people want us to be that finished product now,” Staley said. “We’re just trying to mesh it all together.”
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Who: Vanderbilt (12-13, 2-10 SEC) at No. 6 USC (21-3, 11-1)
When: 7 p.m. Thursday
Where: Colonial Life Arena
TV: SEC Network
Radio: 107.5 FM
Vanderbilt’s probable starters: G Kaleigh Clemons-Green 5-7 Fr. (4.7 ppg, 2.8 rpg); G Minta Spears 5-10 Sr. (2.8 ppg, 1.7 rpg); G Erin Whalen 6-1 Fr. (8.5 ppg, 2.8 rpg); F Marqu’es Webb 6-1 Sr. (7.4 ppg, 9.0 rpg); F Kayla Overbeck 6-1 Fr. (10.0 ppg, 7.5 rpg)
South Carolina’s probable starters: G Ty Harris 5-10 Fr. (5.0 ppg, 1.7 rpg); G Allisha Gray 6-0 Jr. (12.9 ppg, 4.5 rpg); G Kaela Davis 6-2 Jr. (11.7 ppg, 3.6 rpg); F A’ja Wilson 6-5 Jr. (17.0 ppg, 7.0 rpg); C Alaina Coates 6-4 Sr. (13.8 ppg, 11.7 rpg)
Next game: South Carolina tips off at Missouri at 3 p.m. on Sunday.