Dawn Staley promised a Sweet 16 team would open South Carolina’s season next year, then later clarified that it was a team that had been to a Sweet 16, not one that made last year’s Sweet 16. But, she said, it was still a big-name team.
She didn’t have to correct that part.
Ohio State announced its non-conference schedule Monday and confirmed Staley’s news. The Buckeyes will be the Gamecocks’ first opponent in 2015-16 as part of a home-and-home series, giving USC a marquee game right off the bat.
Staley has often said, especially with USC’s success over the past four seasons, how hard it is to get strong teams to come to Columbia. She doesn’t have a problem this year – while the schedule has yet to be released, Duke and national champion Connecticut are coming to Colonial Life Arena in return for the Gamecocks visiting each last year. The Ohio State game is set for Nov. 13 and is the season-opener, a USC sports information spokeswoman confirmed.
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The Buckeyes make a third quality opponent. Ohio State returned to the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2012 last year and was jettisoned in the second round. North Carolina topped the Buckeyes, then lost to USC in the next game.
Ohio State was led by Kelsey Mitchell, the country’s top scorer. She was a first-team All-American by one group and second-team by the others, and won three National Freshman of the Year prizes.
The Buckeyes have advanced to nine Sweet 16s but none since 2011. Coach Kevin McGuff rebuilt the program after coaching at Washington for two seasons. McGuff was at Xavier for nine years and assisted at Notre Dame and Miami (Ohio) before getting his first head coaching job.
McGuff was also hired after Ohio State’s first choice for the job – Staley – turned it down. Contacted after the 2012-13 season, Staley was about to head to Columbus to interview before athletic director Ray Tanner stepped in. Tanner met with Staley, Staley cancelled the trip and less than a month later, her contract was extended through the 2018-19 season.
USC hasn’t played Ohio State since 1981 and trails the all-time series 1-2. The Gamecocks are also 1-2 against McGuff, playing his Xavier teams three times. Staley lost to McGuff in 2011 but won the last game 67-56 in 2012.
Staley told The State last week that USC will play in the University of Hawaii’s tournament over Thanksgiving. The only other known game is at Clemson on a date to be determined.
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