No surprise, but only a little subduing of the party.
South Carolina celebrated as raucously as it did the past three years Monday when it received its fourth consecutive No. 1 bid for the NCAA tournament, players erupting at the front of a packed room all gathered for a “FAMdemonium” event. Coach Dawn Staley, the orchestrator of the event, fan turnout and most of all, a team that has dominated the SEC for four straight years and is again entering the NCAAs as one of the top teams in the country, smiled and again thanked.
That’s, she thanked the fans. She had quite another opinion of the NCAA selection committee, which again placed the Gamecocks as the top seed in a region far from fans who logged the top attendance in the country.
“Our selection party so far is a lot better than the region we’re seeded in,” Staley said. “I think our body of work speaks to a lot closer than where we were placed.”
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USC starts its journey at Colonial Life Arena, playing 16-seed UNC Asheville at 5 p.m. Friday. The other teams in the pod are 8-seed Arizona State and 9-seed Michigan State.
With two wins, the Gamecocks would advance to Stockton, Calif., as a hopeful stop on their way to Dallas for the Final Four. If the Gamecocks make it, they’ll be matched up with the winner of the Lexington Regional, spearheaded by top seed Notre Dame.
USC would not play overall No. 1 seed Connecticut until the national championship game.
The committee’s logic seems to be the same as last year, when USC was shipped to Sioux Falls, S.D., instead of Lexington, Ky. Like last year, Notre Dame was awarded the top seed in Lexington due to it being a “drivable” location, despite USC fans routinely making the trip to Lexington and not boarding a plane to do so.
As expected, UConn was the top seed in Bridgeport, Conn., and Baylor was the top seed in Oklahoma City. And Kentucky, a No. 4 seed, was again placed in the Lexington Regional where it could win four games without having to leave campus.
Staley’s point was simple – those teams, such as a Kentucky team USC beat three times, get favors. Why doesn’t the No. 1 seed?
“I don’t know what more we can do,” Staley said. “Two years ago, we got sent to Greensboro. Last year, we had to take the time-zone flight. I thought it was our turn to get it flipped over back to the Greensboro kind of ideaology.”
Staley vowed to again stress her case to the committee but this year, USC will have to advance to the Final Four from Stockton, if it gets there. The Gamecocks have games to play first.
“It’s disappointing not being able to play close to home and have as many fans as we would like, but Cali, it’s a nice place,” Allisha Gray said. “I’m just ready to play wherever we’re positioned to play.”
The Gamecocks practiced some during spring break and Staley said they’re ready to go. Yet they may be without senior center Alaina Coates, who has not practiced since re-injuring her right ankle in the SEC tournament semifinal. Staley said, “We’re going to see where she is as we continue down this path.”
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NCAA Women’s Tournament
Who: No. 1 South Carolina (27-4) vs. No. 16 UNC Asheville (19-14)
When: 5 p.m. Friday
Where: Colonial Life Arena
Other game in Columbia: No. 8 Arizona State (19-12) vs. No. 9 seed Michigan State (21-11) at 7:30 p.m. Friday