Dawn Staley previews Kentucky, reflects on run of SEC dominance
Mathematically, it’s still possible for South Carolina women’s basketball to claim its fifth consecutive SEC regular season title.
Dawn Staley isn’t kidding herself, though.
She knows No. 2 Mississippi State will win at least one more game before the year is out, and when the Bulldogs do, they’ll claim their first SEC championship, snapping USC’s historic streak.
But just because the No. 8 Gamecocks don’t have a title to play for doesn’t mean their final three games are all throwaways. Starting Sunday against Kentucky, USC and Staley will need just about every win they can get to hold on to a top-four spot in the SEC and the double-bye in the conference tournament that comes with it.
“Nope,” Staley said Friday when asked if she’s taken a moment to savor the four previous titles. “I enjoyed the journey while we had it, but now we’re just in the midst of trying to get a top spot. I think Mississippi State is going to take care of their business and win at least one of their last three. What we need to do is concentrate on us and getting better at what we need to do.”
Staley’s concern about the top-four seed is understandable. In South Carolina’s final three games, it plays two of the five teams currently one game behind them in third place in the standings – LSU and Tennessee. And Sunday’s opponent, Kentucky, has been playing much better as of late, going 4-3 since USC defeated it on Jan. 21 after starting the year 9-12.
“Winning helps. Winning will give you the confidence that you need to go on the road and get some wins, and we’re not looking at the record at all,” Staley said of the Wildcats. “Every time we play them, it’s a knock down, drag out.”
And while fans might lament the end of the streak, the longest of any team in the SEC besides Tennessee, for South Carolina’s younger players, it has little bearing on their approach – sophomore guard Tyasha Harris said she wasn’t even aware of the run of regular-season titles until recently.
“It was great to be a part of it. It was great to have it,” Harris said. “And even though we’re not going to get it this year, we just gotta get it back next year and keep it going.”