South Carolina women’s basketball is back in the NCAA Tournament as a No. 2 seed, but the celebration at Williams-Brice Stadium was undercut slightly Monday by the reveal that the No. 7 Gamecocks will play in the Albany regional and presumably have to defeat No. 1 Connecticut to reach the Final Four.
For the past three years, there has been a regional in Lexington, Ky., just out of the 350-mile radius the NCAA considers driveable, but close enough coach Dawn Staley and others have felt that’s where USC should be so fans can come support the team.
After getting sent to Sioux Falls, S.D., and Stockton, Calif., the previous two years, South Carolina won’t have to change time zones this season, but it will have to travel into faraway, likely hostile, territory, and Staley is less than pleased with that decision by the selection committee.
“It is what it is. Obviously, you want to be a No. 1 seed for obvious reasons, but we’re not that this year. We’re going to go out and play,” Staley said shortly after her team’s seed and region was revealed. “It’s not in the cards to get to a region our fans get to (and) that’s the only part that is disheartening on my part. If the NCAA talks about putting people in the seats, we’ve done that. We’ve done that for four years. And we’ve only been to a place in which our fans can drive once.
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“We just have to rethink as a committee what’s important, because what they tell us is important is attendance. And our fans who’ve been the No. 1 (in terms of attendance) in the country for four years don’t get a chance to drive and support our teams in a way that, in the numbers that they could have.”
When asked what structure she might like to see the tournament take in the future, including proposals to centralize the regionals into one location, Staley said she simply didn’t want the status quo to continue.
“I don’t really care how they format it. I just want them to get it right for teams and fans like ourselves,” Staley said. “We work hard, we put ourselves in a great position, and it just seems like time and time again, we always get the short end of the stick. And I know people are going to say I’m complaining, I’m doing this. I have to speak up for our program, because I don’t think there’s anybody in the room who’s speaking up for our program and our fans and what we’ve been able to accomplish over the past four years.”
As for the task of taking down UConn, a team USC has never beaten and who has rolled through this season undefeated, beating the Gamecocks on Feb. 1, 83-58, Staley said she and her players had no choice but to play with confidence.
“What can you do? You’re going to have beat some pretty great teams. Is it an impossible feat? Obviously not. We saw that last year. If we’re in a position where we have to play them, we’re going to play them, we’re going to give it our best shot and let the chips fall where they may,” Staley said.
South Carolina opens the NCAA Tournament on Friday when it hosts No. 15 seed North Carolina A&T at 7:30 p.m. Should the Gamecocks advance, they will play the winner of Virginia-California.
Greg Hadley: 803-771-8382, @GregHadley9
Who: USC vs. North Carolina A&T
When: 7:30 p.m. Friday
Where: Colonial Life Arena
First game: Virginia vs. Cal, 5 p.m.