USC Women's Basketball

‘We haven’t won big games yet’: Dawn Staley still searching for USC’s signature win

For Gamecock women’s basketball fans looking to take any positives from No. 13 South Carolina’s loss to No. 16 Kentucky on Thursday at Colonial Life Arena, there wasn’t a whole lot to hold onto.

USC’s leading scorer, junior guard Te’a Cooper, sprained her ankle and her status moving forward is unclear. The Gamecocks had their worst shooting, most turnover-filled game in conference play. Their RPI standing dropped five spots. And rival Mississippi State won, knocking Carolina out of a first-place tie atop the SEC.

At this point in the year, such a performance can’t really be explained by inexperience or early-season adjustments. Coach Dawn Staley acknowledged as much when she said South Carolina had faced press defenses previously this season and responded better than it did Thursday.

“We just weren’t very good,” Staley said. “We weren’t very good at executing, we weren’t good at getting the ball out of traps, making decisions and going into traps.”

With only three regular season games left, each result’s importance is amplified, and Staley made it clear she wasn’t letting Thursday’s game go without making a point to her players.

“I’m not trying to keep them focused (on the next games). I had a lot to say after the game,” Staley said. “You’d have to talk to them about that. I’m not going to air our dirty laundry, but I’m not very happy.”

Specifically, Staley said she talked to the Gamecocks about “things that we need to do to win in general, to win big games, because we haven’t won big games yet.”

USC does have a previous road win over Kentucky, another road victory against Texas A&M and a home win against Missouri to claim as ranked victories. But Staley’s concern seems to be her team’s lack of success against the very best of the best — Carolina is 0-5 against top-10 teams this year and hasn’t beaten a team ranked higher than it.

The Gamecocks will get one more regular-season chance for a massive statement win — March 3 against No. 6 Mississippi State at Colonial Life Arena.

And because of Thursday’s result, the Gamecocks have no room for error if they want to claim at least a share of the SEC regular season title. First, they must take care of business on the road against Tennessee and Auburn. Then, they’ll have to find some way to put Kentucky behind them and play better than they have all season.

It’s still possible, and that seems to be what South Carolina is hanging onto after a demoralizing defeat. While the way the Gamecocks lost to Kentucky was frustrating, it didn’t end their season or even limit what they can still accomplish.

“We have to come in, regroup, and just focus on what we can control. We still got all our goals ahead of us. We get to play Mississippi State. ... We just gotta focus game by game and hopefully go from there,” junior captain Tyasha Harris said.

Greg Hadley is the beat writer for South Carolina women’s basketball and baseball for GoGamecocks and The State. He also covers football and recruiting.