Joanne Boyle coached for her professional life Sunday night.
Virginia’s head women’s basketball coach paced the Colonial Life Arena sidelines, exhorting her 10th-seeded Cavaliers in a futile upset attempt against second-seeded South Carolina. She waved, she screamed, she picked up a tattered piece of paper with her notes on it and put it back down only to pick it up again all night long. In short, she tried.
None of it was enough, though. South Carolina won the second round NCAA Tournament game 66-56 and now heads to the Sweet Sixteen in Albany, N.Y., where a probable matchup with No. 1 UConn awaits. The Huskies and head coach Geno Auriemma are a frightening prospect on any horizon, but the adversary that Gamecocks fans might most need to be worried about Boyle’s boss.
Carla Williams, the Cavaliers new athletic director, sat at courtside for her team’s games here on Friday night and again on Sunday. On Monday, she was headed home with a decision to make about whether or not to keep Boyle. Virginia’s head coach just finished her seventh season. This year was her team’s first appearance in the NCAA Tournament and its Friday night win came against a Cal team that was without its top scorer.
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"I was just worried about trying to beat South Carolina," Boyle said after the game. "There are some things we will be talking about in the offseason. We have an unbelievable new athletic director in Carla Williams. She had been very kind to let us play out this season with no interruptions. Our whole focus has been about this season."
Williams declined Sunday night to discuss Boyle’s future. To do so would have been inappropriate given the timing and also would have invited an uncomfortable follow-up question: Will Williams and Virginia make a run at South Carolina head coach Dawn Staley, the former Cavaliers star, in the offseason?
Williams was hired in October, becoming the first African-American woman put in charge of a Power 5 athletics program. She’s a former Georgia basketball player and administrator and also has worked at Vanderbilt. She’s got lots of clout in college athletics’ circles, and she might be looking to make a splash hire.
There wouldn’t be many splashier in Charlottesville than Staley. A refresher on Staley’s playing career at Virginia: Two-time National Player of the Year (1991 and 1992), three-time Final Four participant, at one time the school’s all-time leader in scoring and assists, and her No. 24 has been retired.
As the coach at South Carolina, she has a similar checked-all-the-boxes resume. She has won handfuls of SEC championships and last year’s national championship.
Here are the things Williams might point out to Staley if they do have a conversation this offseason: Sunday was A’ja Wilson’s last game in Colonial Life Arena, a fact punctuated by the roar that went through the building when Wilson was announced with the starters before the game. The Gamecocks signing class is good but only good. They have inked two of the nation’s top 100 players, according to ESPNW’s rankings – No. 9 Destanni Henderson and No. 50 Victaria Sexton.
Staley is paid $1.45 million annually, more than any other coach in the SEC, and South Carolina could and probably would pay her more, but a bidding war against old-money UVA is daunting for anyone.
Staley has avoided the Virginia issue this weekend, and throughout her 10 years at South Carolina, and she will continue to do so publicly, but Williams has a decision to make about her current coach and then probably a phone call to make after that.