It hasn’t been a great two days for South Carolina basketball and the NCAA Tournament selection committees.
A day after the Gamecocks’ men’s team was snubbed by the tournament, USC’s women’s team was placed in the Sioux Falls Regional. While the Gamecocks earned their third straight No. 1 seed and open the NCAA Tournament at home, they would have to play the Sweet 16 and Elite Eight rounds in South Dakota, should they advance.
“It’s pretty surprising, but at the same time, we’re not on the committee. We weren’t in a room, so we don’t know what was behind it,” USC coach Dawn Staley said. “But we got to do our job. Our job is to open up on Friday night and take care of our business.”
USC will start its job at 7:30 p.m. on Friday against No. 16-seed Jacksonville (22-10) at Colonial Life Arena, and with a win, advance to play the winner of eighth-seeded George Washington and ninth-seeded Kansas State on Sunday.
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USC was hoping for the No. 1 seed in the Lexington (Ky.) Regional, providing a reasonable distance for its fans to travel to see it play. The Gamecocks (31-1), behind Notre Dame in the Associated Press Top 25 but ahead in the NCAA’s listing of Top-10 teams, somehow fell behind the Fighting Irish when it came to the top seed in Lexington.
It was a curious move … especially when the Gamecocks’ nemesis, Kentucky, was placed in the Lexington Regional as the No. 3 seed. The Wildcats could potentially play four straight “home” games, two on their home court of Memorial Coliseum and two at Rupp Arena, to get to the Final Four. Rupp, which seats 23,500, would doubtless be filled with blue.
That made sense until taking into account that USC beat Kentucky three times this season, the last by 30 points in the SEC tournament semifinal. If there were any favors being done, the Gamecocks would’ve seemed to have the edge.
“If you look at last year, they kept us in a geographical region in Greensboro,” Staley said. “I guess that’s the concept behind Kentucky being in Lexington.”
Yet the Lexington Regional was loaded with top teams. At least on paper, the Sioux Falls Regional seemed much easier to get through.
The rest of the bracket had No. 2 seed Arizona State, No. 3 seed Ohio State, No. 4 seed Syracuse, No. 5 Florida, No. 6 seed West Virginia and No. 7 seed Tennessee. The Gamecocks have beaten all but the Orange and Mountaineers this season, and beat Syracuse last season in the NCAA tournament.
Yet it’s tough for the Gamecocks’ fans, which have kept USC at the top of the NCAA’s attendance chart all season. Many had already purchased tickets in Lexington.
“We can take a charter flight to anywhere we go,” Staley said. “For our fans, it’s a little bit harder to do. I feel bad for them, because some of them had bought tickets in the Lexington Regional.”
The Gamecocks turned their attention to the NCAA Tournament, hoping to bring the performance of the last two days of the SEC tournament with them. A semifinal win over Kentucky and a championship game win over Mississippi State was the best USC has looked all season.
“We were preparing to go anywhere,” senior Khadijah Sessions said. “Knowing that we’re playing our best basketball right now, we’re real, real amped up to get back on the court.”
Also as expected, Notre Dame, Baylor and Connecticut received the other No. 1 seeds. The Gamecocks could see a potential rematch in the Final Four against the Fighting Irish, and could rematch with UConn if the two each win five tournament games.
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NCAA tournament Columbia game schedule
Who: Jacksonville (22-10) at South Carolina (31-1)
When: 7:30 p.m. Friday
Where: Colonial Life Arena
Who: George Washington (26-6) vs. Kansas State (18-12)
When: 5 p.m. Friday
Where: Colonial Life Arena
Tickets: Single-session tickets for the first and second rounds will go on sale at 10 a.m. Tuesday, March 15. Reserved seating in the lower bowl has sold out, but general admission seating is available for $15 (adult) for the first round (both games) and $12 (adult) for the second round. Youth, University faculty/staff and group pricing is also available. Booklets for the entire weekend are available for $23 and include a general admission ticket for each round. Purchase ticket booklets by calling 1-800-4SC-FANS, visiting the Colonial Life Arena box office during regular business hours or going online at GamecocksOnline.com. Single-sessions tickets are available at TicketMaster.com.