【nohu dola】South Carolina women's hoops stays perfect to win SEC title
Dawn Staley didn't hesitate a few weeks ago when asked if she was worried about her team pursuing a perfect season. She said it wasn't weighing on her South Carolina Gamecocks ' minds at all.
If the way they played in winning the program's seventh SEC tournament title in women's basketball is an indication, all the weight is on whoever is trying to stop them from claiming a second consecutive national championship.
The Gamecocks moved to 32-0 Sunday with a 74-58 victory over the Tennessee Lady Vols in the SEC final in Greenville, South Carolina. After an undefeated SEC regular season -- the third time South Carolina has done that under Staley -- the Gamecocks won their three SEC tournament games by 27, 29 and 16 points.
The victory in Sunday's SEC final came almost a year to the day after South Carolina's last loss: 64-62 in the SEC tournament championship March 6 at the same place -- Bon Secours Wellness Arena in Greenville. The Gamecocks lost that on a last-second shot by the Kentucky Wildcats, but there was no such drama this year.
Women's Champ Week predictions: Which teams will win the auto bids in all 32 conferences?4dESPN
Women's Bracketology: With ACC title in hand, Hokies ascend to No. 1 seed4hCharlie Creme
Guard Zia Cooke led South Carolina with 24 points, while Aliyah Boston -- the projected No. 1 pick in April's WNBA draft -- had 18 points and seven rebounds and was named tournament's most outstanding player.
South Carolina will be the No. 1 overall seed in the NCAA tournament and will host the early-round games. They are certain to be assigned to the Greenville Regional at the same arena where they won Sunday. It's a home-away-from-home for the Gamecocks, just 104 miles from their Colonial Life Arena in Columbia. So if they advance to the Sweet 16, they won't have far to travel.
"I took my time today to hear it," Staley said of the crowd's cheers Sunday. "They're super- proud of their team and the product we put on the floor. It really helps us."
The Gamecocks have been the top-drawing team in women's college basketball since 2015, and they will keep packing the house as long as they're playing. They are now six victories away from Staley's third NCAA title with the program. Their first was in 2017.
It's been a remarkable program build under Staley, who took over as South Carolina's head coach in 2008. All of their SEC tournament titles have come during her time there, starting in 2015.
"We used to come to this tournament and we're out in one day," Staley said. "And the season was over. It was just working toward getting to this place. We're going to enjoy it."
But this season could be a first for South Carolina: going undefeated. There have been nine previous teams from four programs in NCAA women's basketball history that have finished a season undefeated: the Texas Longhorns (1986), UConn Huskies (1985, 2002, 2009 2010, 2014, 2016), Tennessee (1998) and the Baylor Bears (2012).
The Gamecocks lost twice last season before a dominant run in the NCAA tournament. With so many players returning, South Carolina has not looked rattled this season.
"This is an experienced group," Staley said. "Now I think we can just embrace who we are and play as calm and poised as we need to play, because they've been there. This is part of their routine, and once you have created habits going into the postseason, you find a way to adjust and navigate in a place where if you can just be who you were all season long, you can find comfort in that."