COUMBIA, S.C. — There were loud cheers the moment South Carolina women’s basketball was announced as a No. 1 seed on Monday night. Then Dawn Staley took the microphone with a different tone.
For the fourth straight year, the Gamecocks earned one of the four top seeds in the NCAA Tournament. For the third time in those four years, it means a cross-country trek for the regional round with South Carolina as the top seed in the Stockton, Calif., regional.
“I am very disappointed,” Staley said. “We are always the team – three out of the four years we have been a No. 1 seed, we had to fly two or three or time zones. I’m not going to say it’s not fair. But they’ve gotta figure out a different way. We played ourselves into that that No. 3, No. 1 seed.”
It’s an all-too-familiar feeling for the Gamecocks, who traveled to Sioux Falls, S.D., for the regional last year and Stanford, Calif., two years before that.
Now, if the Gamecocks advance past No. 16 UNC-Asheville and No. 8 Arizona State/No.9 Michigan State, they will board another flight across multiple time zones to play for a Final Four berth.
Staley and the Gamecocks were hopeful to be placed in the Lexington, Ky., regional, a location that was given to Notre Dame as the No. 2 overall seed – one spot ahead of South Carolina. The program made its lone run to the Final Four when it wasn’t sent out west and instead sent to Greensboro, N.C., in 2015.
“I feel like Lexington would have been a little closer and helped us out a little bit,” junior forward A’ja Wilson said. “We can control what we can control. And we are going to continue to do us.”
Staley, who cited South Carolina’s overall resume with road wins and Top 25 wins, thought the committee might see this season as the Gamecocks’ turn to have geographical preference. She planned to reach out to the selection committee to discuss their thinking in again sending the Gamecocks far from Columbia and its strong fan support.
“Two years ago, we got it because of the fan support and it was a flight for Notre Dame to go to Oklahoma City,” Staley said. “Last year, it flipped flopped where it was a flight for us. … I just thought it should flip flop back if all things are created equal, which I think they are because they won their tournament and we won our tournament. I think we played a little bit better schedule than they did. I’m eager to see what they say about it.”
As it stands, the Gamecocks now know the road cut out for them. It starts locally, in front of a packed Colonial Life Arena for at least one game. With a pair of wins, it would be off to California as a No. 1 seed once again.
“That’s exactly what we have been aiming for all year is No. 1 seeds,” Wilson said. “I think we don’t want anything short of it. We work hard all season long for it. When we see that No. 1 next to our name in bracket play, that’s a big thing for us.”
As Staley stood in front of the crowd Monday night at Williams-Brice Stadium, she did bring a positive to light: She is more than willing to play anyone, anywhere and anytime.
“Obviously, the committee is putting us to the test,” Staley said.