Dawn Staley had some fiery words after South Carolina women’s basketball lost on the road to No. 15 Missouri on Sunday, seemingly calling out referees, the Tigers and the home crowd in Mizzou Arena for their conduct during the 83-74 defeat.
During the game, Staley was ejected after picking up two technical fouls, while the Gamecocks were hit with 26 total fouls, their most in a single game in nearly six years. Missouri, meanwhile, was whistled for 20 fouls, but many USC fans felt Mizzou and its star, Sophie Cunningham, got away with rough play.
While it is typical for ejected coaches not to address reporters after the game, Staley spoke with the media, and while she did not explicitly criticize the referees or Missouri, she did seem to take a few subtle shots. When asked how the Tigers managed to contain star forward A’ja Wilson, her answer was simple: “Fouling her.”
When asked what she had done to pick up her second technical foul, she was similarly brief.
“Beats me,” she said. “They told me I had to go. I didn’t say anything, I just sat there.”
When asked how she would describe Missouri’s play, she declined to answer.
“That’s not for me to describe. They have a coach that will describe their play,” she said.
And when a reporter asked how the Gamecocks could have prepared for the Tigers’ physical style of play, she didn’t think there was much she could have done differently.
“You really can’t simulate it unless you want to bring in more SEC officials to prep for throughout the week, and we can’t do that,” she said.
And when Mechelle Voepel of ESPN asked Staley directly for her thoughts on the referees, she had a lengthy reply in which she seemed to insinuate that Wilson and her team received unfair officiating.
“Mechelle, you know the game. You know the game very well. You’ve been covering for a long time and maybe you know the history of player of the year candidates just playing a half a game (due to fouls),” Staley said. “I’ve never seen anybody play half a game like A’ja Wilson played today. Never seen it. And I don’t know what is, but we are going to figure it out.
“But I will tell you this. I did call (SEC coordinator of officials) Sally Bell. I texted her before this game because we had two of the same referees that we had last year. And I don’t know if that’s coincidental, maybe it was because that’s what she said, but you’ve got to do better. I’m not saying they’re the reason why, but you’ve got to do better when you’re coordinating officials and games and all that. You’ve got to do better.”
That, combined with the reaction of the fans in Columbia, Missouri, was the reason Staley felt her players couldn’t retaliate against the perceived dirty play of Missouri.
“I thought our kids, under the circumstances they were put in, they were great,” Staley said. “Throughout my career at Temple and South Carolina, I’ve heard people call us street fighters. I’ve heard a lot of names for the way that we play. And if we retaliate with some of the players that were out there, those would be the names that would probably pop up again.
“I have to protect my players. I have to protect them from the tears they have in the locker room. And I’m going to do that every day of the week. Every day of the week I’m going to protect my players. Every day. Whoever wants to call our games, whoever wants to talk about our kids, I’m going to protect them every day of the week, and I protected them today.”
It is unclear whether or not the SEC will discipline Staley for her comments on the referees, but it has been the league policy since 2009 to fine or suspend coaches who criticize officiating, even if it is the first infraction.