- Associated Press - Monday, February 9, 2015

STORRS, Conn. (AP) - South Carolina coach Dawn Staley isn’t going to let her team dwell on its first loss of the season. The top-ranked Gamecocks still have many goals left to achieve.

“This is absolutely part of our journey,” Staley said after the 87-62 defeat to No. 2 Connecticut on Monday night. “This isn’t a destination game for us. The only way this works for us is if we learn from it and use it.”

Her players echoed their coach’s sentiment.

“We’re not stunned. This is no way, shape or form the defining point in our season,” said Aleighsa Welch, who led the Gamecocks with 17 points and 11 rebounds. “We have to evaluate the film, ourselves. Learn from it and move on.”

South Carolina came into this matchup of the top teams with wins in its first 22 games. The Gamecocks hadn’t allowed more than 63 points in a game and had found ways to win even when they were down. They cut a 16-point halftime deficit to 10 early in the second half before UConn put the game away.

UConn coach Geno Auriemma was impressed with the rise the Gamecocks have made under Staley. He feels they are very close to being a consistent national power.

“South Carolina is two-thirds of the way there,” Auriemma said. “The school wants to be a great basketball program and they have the right coach who knows how to do it. Now their recruiting base has to expand and that takes time. Once you start recruiting outside your area then the perception of your program changes.”

Auriemma said he told Staley after the game that he’d like to see her again in the Final Four.

“They are going to be playing deep into the NCAA tournament,” Auriemma said. “I told Dawn, I hope we play them in Tampa. That would be pretty special.”

South Carolina (22-1) hung with UConn for 7½ minutes and led 18-15 before the Huskies (23-1) used a 21-2 run to take control.

This game had been highly anticipated since it was the 54th meeting of The Associated Press women’s basketball poll’s top teams.

Not even a blizzard that dropped around a foot of snow in the area could keep fans away. Students arrived more than two hours before the game started to get in their seats where T-shirts awaited with the phrase “Basketball Capital of the World” adorning the front. Even the 600 fans who couldn’t make it turned in their tickets so that students on campus could attend to make this game a sellout. This was the first on-campus sellout for UConn since last season’s senior day.

“I can’t say enough about all the fans that braved the elements to come out here. That’s pretty special,” Auriemma said.

It’s not often that UConn has hosted a No. 1 team in the nation. Usually, it’s the Huskies who are the top team in the country. South Carolina has been No. 1 in the poll the last 12 weeks since UConn suffered its only loss of the season at Stanford.

TIP-INS:

South Carolina: The Gamecocks’ 22 straight wins to begin the season matched the best start by any team in school history tying the 2000 baseball squad and 1979-80 women’s tennis team. … South Carolina has never beaten a team ranked higher than third. … The Gamecocks hadn’t given up more than 63 points in a game this season until Monday night.

UConn: Auriemma and Chris Dailey were presented with basketballs and framed jerseys to commemorate the 900th victory achieved last week against Cincinnati. … UConn is now 5-1 in 1 vs. 2 matchups when the Huskies are the No. 2 team.

OLYMPIC BOUND:

Hours before the game, USA basketball announced Staley, DePaul’s Doug Bruno and Minnesota Lynx coach Cheryl Reeve as assistant for Auriemma at the 2016 Olympics. The trio helped the Americans win the title at the 2014 world championship. The group all received their world championship rings before the game.

UP NEXT:

South Carolina: hosts LSU on Thursday.

UConn: hosts Tulane on Saturday.

___

Follow Doug on Twitter at https://www.twitter.com/dougfeinberg


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