South Carolina is a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament for a second straight year – and this time the Gamecocks get to host a couple of games.
The SEC champion Gamecocks (30-2) are atop the Greensboro Region and open Friday against No. 16 seed Savannah State (21-10), the Mid-Eastern American Conference winners who fell in Columbia 111-49 on Dec. 14.
South Carolina is making its fourth straight NCAA appearance and hosting a home game for the first time since 2002. That was the final year schools in the state could hold women’s basketball regionals because of the NCAA’s ban of South Carolina for flying the Confederate flag on Statehouse grounds. NCAA rules shifted to awarding sites on merit, putting the Gamecocks at home.
The mood Monday night was less raucous than last season when the Gamecocks felt they had squandered a chance at a top seed. The team danced and celebrated last year when its name showed on TV. This time, the confident group casually took to the home floor where they’ll be playing Friday.
“We get to play right here in front of you guys so hope to see you here this weekend,” South Carolina senior Aleighsa Welch said to those attending the watch party.
If the Gamecocks advance to the Sweet 16, they could square off against North Carolina. The Tar Heels knocked South Carolina out of the tournament in that same round a year ago in Seattle. This time, the Tar Heels would be playing a short ride from their Chapel Hill campus in Greensboro.
South Carolina coach Dawn Staley played to the fans on Monday night.
“We know if we take care of the first and second round,” she said. “We know you’ll take care of the Greensboro Regional.”
Two-time SEC player of the year Tiffany Mitchell will lead the Gamecocks out against Savannah State, which is making its first ever NCAA Tournament appearance. Mitchell averaged a team high 14.4 points while 6-foot-5 freshman A’ja Wilson averaged 13.3 points and 6.8 rebounds.
Wilson was named the SEC’s freshman of the year.
“Now, it’s time for us to do what we’ve done the past two years, which is win and pack this house,” Staley said.
Geno Auriemma and his UConn Huskies are ready to begin their quest for a third straight national championship.
The Huskies earned the first overall in the women’s NCAA Tournament and placed in the Albany Region. They are looking for their 10th overall title, which would tie Auriemma with UCLA men’s coach John Wooden for most all-time.
“This is why you coach,” Auriemma said of going for a third straight championship. “This is why you come to Connecticut if you are one of these players. Are we mature enough to handle it? We will find that out very soon.”
Joining the Huskies as top seeds in the 64-team tournament that begins Friday are Maryland, South Carolina and Notre Dame.
Notre Dame and UConn, former Big East rivals, met in the national championship game last season as undefeated teams with the Huskies coming away with the victory. The pair played earlier this season in South Bend, Indiana, and the Huskies won by 18 points. UConn also beat South Carolina on Feb. 9 by 25.