USC Women's Basketball

Missouri-South Carolina rematch a chance to move forward, Tigers coach says

Dawn Staley calls basketball a ‘safe haven’ from off-court drama, lawsuit

South Carolina women’s basketball coach Dawn Staley directed questions about her lawsuit against Missouri AD Jim Sterk to her lawyer, but she did describe coaching and basketball as her ‘happy place’ amidst controversy.
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South Carolina women’s basketball coach Dawn Staley directed questions about her lawsuit against Missouri AD Jim Sterk to her lawyer, but she did describe coaching and basketball as her ‘happy place’ amidst controversy.

Missouri head women’s basketball coach Robin Pingeton wants to make “something really positive” out of Monday night’s rematch between her Tigers and Dawn Staley’s South Carolina team.

“We talked about some things at the SEC meetings. We have an opportunity to make something really positive from this,” Pingeton told reporters in Columbia, Mo., on Thursday. “Honestly, we don’t talk about that anymore. We don’t. We are focused on one game at a time.”

“That” is Missouri’s last trip to Colonial Life Arena, a game that resulted in one scuffle, two ejections, three weeks of public bickering, one lawsuit and an arena security review mandated by the SEC. The Tigers (15-4) and No. 15 Gamecocks (12-5) play again in Colonial Life Arena on Monday at 7 p.m.

“Absolutely, it’s going to be a battle,” Pingeton said Thursday. “No matter what we do, we have two teams that want to win the game. That’s why you play.”

Staley is scheduled to address the media Sunday as part of USC’s regularly scheduled pregame interviews.

South Carolina athletics director Ray Tanner provided The State with a statement in response to questions about the school’s preparedness for Monday’s game.

“The atmosphere and fan support at Colonial Life Arena is the best in the nation for women’s basketball,” the statement read. “UofSC Athletics has prided itself in maintaining a quality gameday experience for student-athletes, coaches and fans of both participating teams and work to carry out its game operations plan for all home games, no matter the opponent.”

South Carolina officials declined to discuss this week the specific security mandates the SEC made following the last game, but entrances, access and staffing were among the discussion points. Asked if there will be additional security for Monday night’s game, a USC official said the school does not discuss specific security procedures.

“Our team is looking forward to the challenge of playing an excellent South Carolina game on Monday night in what I’m sure will be an outstanding environment, and I am confident that both teams will play at a very high level,” Missouri athletics director Jim Sterk told The State in a statement. “Both institutions have moved on from last year’s game, and to revisit it would not be fair to the coaches and student-athletes who will be playing on Monday night.”

The SEC, which signed off on South Carolina’s arena adjustments in a review last year, also declined comment this week.

“Any information on security and gameday management would need to come from the home institution, in this case South Carolina,” the league wrote in a statement. “Regarding the conference review, results were shared only with the institution.”

The game will be televised by ESPN.

Missouri’s 2019 trip to Colonial Life Arena has been circled on the calendar of Gamecocks’ fans since the 2018 game, a 64-54 South Carolina win after which a Tigers player tweeted that Gamecocks fans had spit on Missouri players after the game.

Two days after that, Pingeton backed up that claim, saying, “I was really disappointed with some things that transpired. There’s no place in our game for that. Fans have to be better all around. Our side, their side. These are daughters. There were some things that were really unfortunate that transpired. Not only verbally but some other things you alluded to.”

Sterk then said during a radio interview that some Gamecocks fans had directed racial slurs toward Missouri players and said Staley had encouraged an atmosphere that led to poor fan behavior.

Tanner said at the time that USC investigated the claims and found no confirmation. Staley then called Sterk’s comments “serious and false” and Tanner demanded an apology. When that didn’t happen by February, Staley sued Sterk for $75,000, claiming defamation and negligence.

The case was settled for $50,000, half of which went to Staley’s INNERSOLE charity and half of which went to attorney’s fees. Sterk also apologized to Staley via a statement.

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