South Carolina women’s basketball lost its first SEC matchup of the season on Sunday, dropping an 83-74 contest on the road to Missouri to fall to 13-2 on the year.
But the on-court action in Columbia, Missouri, was mostly secondary to the drama that was unfolding on the sidelines between Dawn Staley’s Gamecocks, the Tigers’ fans and the referees calling the game.
Staley picked up her first ejection in recent years after drawing two technical fouls, while star forward A’ja Wilson fouled out for the first time this season. As she left the floor, Staley gave a sarcastic salute to jeering Missouri fans, and after the game, she unloaded on both the officiating and the hostile environment.
Meanwhile, there were reports of Mizzou supporters calling Staley and her team “thugs,” and Staley said afterward that had her players retaliated against the Tigers’ hard fouls they would have been called “street fighters.”
All told, the entire contest was a heated one, and a day after it ended, fans of both teams are still angry. But what questions and answers should Gamecock supporters take from it moving forward?
Is the SEC going to slap Staley with a fine or suspension?
Staley stopped just short of explicitly criticizing the referees working the game, but there was no doubt that she was furious, as evidenced by her remarks saying the SEC needed to “do better when you’re coordinating officials and games” and that she had texted the conference’s head of officiating, Sally Ball, to ask why two referees who called last year’s matchup between the two teams were back for this contest.
The SEC’s Code of Ethics mandates that coaches and players “refrain from all public criticism of officials, which shall include making public any specific communications with the Conference office related to officiating.” The conference’s bylaws also prohibit “personal conduct that may incite spectators.”
In 2009, the SEC changed its policies so that coaches who criticize officials can be fined or suspended, not just reprimanded, for criticizing officials, even if it is their first offense.
The SEC did not respond to requests for comment on Monday as to whether Staley would be disciplined for her comments.
How quickly can South Carolina move on?
Staley had another telling quote from her postgame press conference Sunday.
"Last year when they beat us, we went on to win a national championship," she said. "Maybe this is a prelude to that."
Call it a bold prediction, wishful thinking or whatever you want, it’s clear that Staley wants to use this result as a springboard for her team. Now she just has to make sure her team can do it.
The Gamecockcs face one of the best defensive teams in the country in Auburn on Thursday, and if the young USC team has trouble refocusing after this result, they could easily stumble.
On the other hand, Staley likely doesn’t want her players to completely forget Sunday’s game either. She’ll want them to come out angry and determined. The key will be keeping that anger channeled and contained on the court.
How angry will the Gamecocks be for the rematch?
For the first time ever, South Carolina and Missouri are facing off twice in the same season, as the Tigers come to Colonial Life Arena on Jan. 28, just before the Gamecocks play their two biggest games of the year: a Feb. 1 matchup with No. 1 Connecticut and a national title rematch with No. 4 Mississippi State on Feb. 5.
After Sunday’s result, it’s safe to say that will be an enormously intense and emotional week for USC and its fanbase. The question will be if Staley’s team can keep its emotions in check against Mizzou when a packed CLA is howling for revenge. Twice now Missouri has managed to upset South Carolina on its home court. Now we get to see whether they have the Gamecocks’ number at home too.