COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) - South Carolina and Dawn Staley are in positon to join some pretty select company in the Southeastern Conference.
The Gamecocks could become just the second SEC women’s basketball team to finish 16-0 in conference play.
While the players say they’ll hold off on any SEC title celebrations until the season’s done - South Carolina (24-1, 12-0) can clinch the outright crown with a win against Georgia (19-6, 7-5) on Thursday night - the magnitude of the accomplishment is not lost on their coach.
“I’m thinking about it,” Staley said Wednesday.
Undefeated SEC seasons are nothing new in the conference: Tennessee has had nine of them, including the only other 16-0 run in 2011. For Staley, the feat is more proof that the Lady Vols’ longtime hold on the SEC has shifted a bit to the Southeast.
The Gamecocks clinched a share of their third consecutive SEC title Monday night with a 62-56 win over No. 24 Tennessee, just the second time South Carolina has won in Knoxville. No school had captured three straight SEC regular-season championships since Tennessee won seven in a row from 1998-2004.
Alaina Coates, a junior who has known nothing but SEC titles at South Carolina, said the players are happy with another conference crown, just not satisfied.
“This year, we’re just going finish the season out first before we celebrate anything,” she said.
Sounds like a solid plan since the Gamecocks have shown a lack of focus after clinching the league’s top spot.
The Gamecocks followed an emotional victory over Georgia to earn the 2014 title with a sluggish showing to lose their final regular season game at Tennessee.
South Carolina was 15-0 in the SEC last year and could’ve won the league title outright if not for another regular-season finale flop (at Kentucky) that opened the door for the Lady Vols to grab a share of the 2015 championship.
“This year, we’re just trying to continue the season without hiccups to finish out so we can just outright be champions,” Coates said. “16-0 and leave it at that.”
The closing stretch favors South Carolina, whose only loss this season was against No. 1 UConn earlier this month.
The Gamecocks, 41-3 against SEC opponents the past three seasons, have won the past three games against Georgia. They’ve won 11 straight against Alabama (all by double digits), who they travel to Monday.
The final week of the season includes a trip to Ole Miss (fell 81-62 at South Carolina earlier this season) and closes at home against LSU, which has lost five straight to the Gamecocks by an average of more than 18 points.
“We just have to stay focused and keep doing what we do,” said Coates, who went scoreless but had 10 rebounds and four steals in the Tennessee win. “When we execute, we end up getting a positive result out of it.”
This year, that’s another SEC title. Staley has taken some time since Monday night to enjoy her team’s SEC run.
“You want to enjoy the journey because eight years ago, we lost five SEC regular season titles if you want to look at it like that,” Staley said, laughing. “They’ve accomplished something probably no one in the state of South Carolina thought could get done here, so it’s worthy of saying it.”
Staley, though, is prepping her team for bigger things beyond the SEC.
What currently stresses out the coach the most is her team’s lack of attention at the end of games when the results are decided. She’s seen the same tendency at practice and is demanding a crisper finish from her players down the stretch - a discipline that could serve them well in next month’s NCAA Tournament.
“If we stay true to that,” she said, “than the wins will take care of themselves.”
Copyright © 2021 The Washington Times, LLC.