Gamecocks Women’s Basketball team finally able to play close to home for NCAA Tournament
South Carolina women’s basketball will be a No. 4 seed in the NCAA tournament, hosting the first two rounds in Charlotte, North Carolina, and playing No. 13 seed Belmont in the first round on Friday.
The official NCAA bracket was released shortly after 5 p.m. Monday, two hours earlier than scheduled, because the games were inadvertently leaked earlier in the day on an another ESPN broadcast.
USC-Belmont is set for 1:45 p.m. Friday on ESPN2. Should they win, the Gamecocks would then face the winner of No. 5 Florida State-No. 12 Bucknell on Sunday. All games will be played in Halton Arena in Charlotte while Colonial Life Arena will host the men’s tournament. USC was granted a waiver by the NCAA to play there in February.
For the first time in several years, a top-four seed and the right to host the tournament’s first two rounds was not quite guaranteed for the Gamecocks, a fact of which coach Dawn Staley was very aware.
“We lost prematurely in our SEC tournament, so you never know. We had to wait and see if our body of work gave an opportunity to host, and it did,” Staley said. “I think it helps on so many levels, in that our administrators did a great job at securing being able to host at a short distance away. And then we put ourselves in a position to compete and play at the highest level, which we’re very proud of.”
Beyond that, USC (21-9) would play the the next two rounds in Greensboro, North Carolina, where a matchup with No. 1 overall seed Baylor potentially awaits in the Sweet 16. After three consecutive years of being sent to regionals not within driving range of South Carolina, Staley was pleased with the NCAA committee’s decision to keep her squad close to home.
“I think it’s great for our fans, who have done a great job of securing another top season leading in attendance in the country. And it goes to show that sometimes, it pays to have a good crowd, so hopefully we’ll be able to do our job and create a gameplan that puts us in the position to keep winning,” Staley said.
South Carolina’s planned watch party at Williams-Brice Stadium was obviously impacted by ESPN’s accidental reveal — the early broadcast took place before the team arrived, and when they did, they staged an over-the-top “reaction” video with fans.
The leak also gave Staley a extra hour or two to prepare for Belmont, a program South Carolina has never played before.
“I just got a chance to see them in the past couple hours. We played such a great schedule in that we’ve seen a lot of teams that play very similar to Belmont. We played Drake, we played Missouri. So some of those teams will definitely help in preparing for them,” Staley said.
The Gamecocks have also never played Bucknell. They last played Florida State in the 2017 NCAA tournament, winning 71-64. USC and Baylor squared off earlier this year at Colonial Life Arena on Dec. 2, with the Lady Bears winning 94-69.
After a stunning upset loss to Arkansas in the first round of the SEC tournament, Staley said she is hopeful that her team can take better advantage of the homecourt advantage it will have in Charlotte.
“All year long, our fans have done their job. They’ve put us in the position where we’ve had the big crowd and created the homecourt advantage. They’ve done that. They’ll do that at UNC-Charlotte,” Staley said. “What we need to do is, we have to match that. We have to match the output that our fans are putting into our players, and hopefully with this week of practice that we’ve had, we’ll be able to do that.”