Los Angeles Times
South Carolina seeks perfection
Gamecocks are 32-0 and can become the 10th team to finish a season without a loss.
Dawn Staley has South Carolina six wins away from finishing a historic season.
The Gamecocks (32-0) are looking to become the 10th women’s basketball team to go undefeated for a season as they enter the NCAA tournament as the No. 1 overall seed.
Staley’s squad has been challenged a few times this season but has always pulled through. The defending national champions will play Norfolk State in the first round of the tournament, the NCAA selection committee revealed Sunday night.
“It didn’t take a loss for us to learn from the lessons of a close game,” Staley said. “Now we found ourselves in a position where we can’t afford to lose.”
While the Gamecocks, led by star Aliyah Boston, have been a lock to be the top seed for most of the season, several schools were vying for the other No. 1s. The committee ultimately chose Indiana, Virginia Tech and Stanford. Indiana and Virginia Tech are first-time No. 1 seeds. 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. Certainly the No. 1 line and the right teams hosting,” selection committee chair Lisa Peterson said.
South Carolina might have the easiest path to the Final Four in Dallas as it won’t have to go far from home. The Gamecocks, who are the 18th team to reach the NCAA tournament unbeaten, will play their first two games on campus before potentially heading 90 minutes away to Greenville, S.C., for one of the two regionals. The Gamecocks just won the Southeastern Conference Tournament at that site.
“It’s great. When we got shipped out to Stockton [in 2017], we thought it was a drag, but we end up winning the national championship. So there are blessings in all types of situations,” Staley said. “We’re blessed that Greenville was a region. We’re blessed that we did 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 is having two regional sites for the Sweet 16 and Elite Eight rounds. Greenville hosts one and Seattle the other. Once again the top four teams in each region will host the opening two rounds.
The other top teams in South Carolina’s bracket are No. 2 seed Maryland, No. 3 Notre Dame and No. 4 UCLA. The Gamecocks beat both Maryland and UCLA this season.
Connecticut, which was the last team to go unbeaten 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 difficult year with injuries but finally started to get healthy heading into March. Star guard Azzi Fudd, who sat out 22 games because of 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 a No. 2 seed in Seattle. Virginia Tech is the top seed in that part of the bracket.
Stanford is the No. 1 in the other Seattle regional.
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 are making their first appearance in the tournament: Southern Utah, Southeastern Louisiana, Sacramento State and Saint Louis.