Dawn Staley has South Carolina six wins away from ending a historic season.
The Gamecocks look to become the 10th women’s basketball team to go undefeated for a full season by entering the NCAA Tournament as the No. 1 seed overall.
Staley’s team has been challenged several times this year, but has always come out on top. The defending national champions will play Norfolk State in the first round of the tournament, the NCAA selection committee revealed Sunday night.
«You didn’t have to lose to learn the lessons of a close game,» Staley said. «Now we find ourselves in a position where we can’t afford to lose.»
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While the Gamecocks, led by star Aliyah Boston, have been a lock for the top seed for most of the season, several schools were in contention for the other No. 1s, including Iowa, Indiana, Virginia Tech, Stanford and Utah. . The Hawkeyes, led by electrifying guard Caitlin Clark, have been seeded twice before, in 1988 and 1992.
The committee ultimately chose the Hoosiers, Hokies, and Cardinal. Indiana and Virginia Tech are No. 1 seeds for the first time. Stanford has been a top seed 13 times, including in the last three tournaments.
«We spent a lot of time on a variety of things. Definitely the number one line and the right teams to host,» said selection committee chair Lisa Peterson.
The tournament begins on Wednesday with two First Four games. The complete madness begins with 16 games on Friday and 16 more the next day.
South Carolina may have the easiest path to the Final Four in Dallas, since it won’t have far to go from home. The Gamecocks, who are the 18th team to reach the NCAA tournament undefeated, will play their first two games on campus before potentially heading 90 minutes to Greenville, South Carolina, for one of two regionals. The Gamecocks just won the Southeastern Conference Tournament at that site.
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«It’s great. When they sent us to Stockton[California]in 2017, we thought it was a drag, but we ended up winning the national championship. So there are blessings in all kinds of situations,» Staley said. «We are blessed that Greenville is a region. We are blessed to have done enough to get sent to this region and we have to make it work for us. We know it won’t be easy.»
The NCAA changed its format this season and has two regional sites for the Sweet 16 and Elite Eight rounds. Greenville is home to one and Seattle the other. Once again, the top four teams from each region will host the first two rounds.
The other top teams in the South Carolina bracket are No. 2 seed Maryland, No. 3 Notre Dame and No. 4 UCLA. The Gamecocks beat both Maryland and UCLA this season.
«I like it. A little bit of familiarity. Take care of Norfolk State, then see where it takes us,» Staley said. «I don’t want to put the cart before the horse. Sometimes when you’re in a tournament like this, it’s always nice to have played someone.»
Indiana is the other top favorite in Greenville. Utah is the second seed with LSU third and Villanova fourth.
UConn, which was the last team to go undefeated and win the title in 2015-16, is looking to extend its own history and reach the Final Four for the 15th consecutive year. The Huskies had a tough year with injuries, but finally started to bounce back heading into March. Star guard Azzi Fudd, who missed 22 games with a knee injury, returned for the Big East Tournament and helped the Huskies win it.
Geno Auriemma’s team, which has won a record 11 national championships, is the second seed in Seattle. The Hokies are the top seed in that part of the group. Ohio State is the 3rd seed and Tennessee is the 4th seed. The Lady Vols have been to every NCAA tournament since it began in 1982.
The Cardinals are No. 1 in the other Seattle regional. Iowa is the No. 2 seed, Duke the 3rd seed and Texas the 4th.
The Atlantic Coast Conference has eight teams in the tournament with the Big Ten, SEC, and Pac-12 each having seven. The Big 12 has six and the Big East five.
Four teams will make their first tournament appearance: Southern Utah, Southeast Louisiana, Sacramento State and Saint Louis.
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Columbia, Kansas, Massachusetts, and Oregon were the first four teams to leave the field.