USC Women's Basketball

Dawn Staley says Missouri AD Jim Sterk’s accusations are ‘serious and false’

South Carolina women’s basketball coach Dawn Staley addressed the media Wednesday for the first time since Missouri athletics director Jim Sterk accused her of fostering an “unhealthy” environment at USC that allegedly resulted in opposing players being spit on and called racial epithets.

“The accusations are serious and false, and they will be handled in a manner reflective of those facts,” Staley said. “And that’s all I’m going to say about that.”

Staley later added that no evidence supporting claims of Mizzou players being spat on has “crossed my desk.” She also reiterated that she stands behind athletics director Ray Tanner’s statement from Tuesday evening in which he said the department had investigated the claims and found no confirmed reports of them.

When asked how she would generally describe South Carolina fans and their level of support, Staley passionately defended them.

“Our fans are great. They’re loyal, they’re passionate, they understand basketball, they understand how to act in the stands. And if I could uproot them and put them in every women’s basketball arena, every coach that represented that particular fanbase would be tremendously proud of what they bring to the table. And I stand by our fans, I stand by what they represent, I stand by how they cheer, I stand by every single thing that they bring to the building, because it’s appropriate and well within the game rules.”

In a radio interview Tuesday, Sterk accused USC fans of spitting on Mizzou players and calling them the “ ‘n’ word” on Sunday, when the Tigers and Gamecocks faced off in a heated matchup at Colonial Life Arena, echoing complaints on social media that coach Robin Pingeton alluded to in a news conference.

Sterk, however, went a step farther than Pingeton and blamed Staley for “promoting” the atmosphere in which the alleged fan misconduct took place. His comments created a firestorm of controversy in the women’s college basketball community and the SEC, with Tanner formally asking Sterk to issue a retraction on Wednesday.

During her news conference, Staley also was asked how she was handling the combination of the allegations and her team’s Thursday matchup against No. 1 Connecticut, a game that will be broadcast nationally on ESPN and likely bring a sellout crowd to CLA.

“I’m a master compartmentalist. I’m a master at it,” Staley said. “Did I lose a little sleep last night? Yes, yes obviously. But there’s another game to be played. I’m responsible for 12 individuals that want to beat UConn. So I have to get my mind right to prep and help them get ready to try to win the game.”

South Carolina and Connecticut face off Thursday at 7 p.m.

Greg Hadley: 803-771-8382, @GregHadley9