There is an exception in the South Carolina women’s basketball schedule. It happened nearly two months ago in Columbia, Missouri to start playing in the Southeast Conference against Mizu. The Gamecocks were in full force while the Tigers were far from them. The outbreak of Omicron wiped out six players, leaving Missouri with the daunting task of defeating the best team in the country with eight players available.
Not on the floor that night was Missouri’s top female player and double machine double Aijha Blackwell. And South Carolina, like Goliath this season, finally met David. Gamecocks lost by one point in overtime. If there are three-tenths of a second on the clock at the Mizzou Arena, South Carolina wins that game on in-house advice from Aliyah Boston.
That night still represents the Gamecocks season’s only loss. They are 25-1 and 13-1 in the SEC, as they undermine other powers at America’s deepest conference. This loss for Missouri only broke the perfect South Carolina record. It was the #1 team in the country, and still gets 22 out of 30 #1 votes in the next edition of AP . survey. The past three weeks have seen a unanimous vote for SC to top the rankings.
Even with the usual force from the Securities and Exchange Commission, Technical Director Don Staley and his cohorts set an absurdly aggressive non-conference schedule. The Gamecocks have played six matches against teams in the top fifteen in the country, all of which are victories. Regular powers such as UConn, Stanford, Maryland, NC State, and Oregon, as well as Kara Lawson’s Duke squad, were beaten by South Carolina. What about other non-conference games? eruptions. The closest was the Gamecocks’ 21-point win over Kansas State. The Wildcats is the #8 seed in ESPN’s latest arc science.
Dominant seasons like South Carolina’s are not incredibly rare in women’s basketball, as UConn last season, before faltering in the Final Four. Or Baylor in 2019. Or South Carolina in 2017. This does not mean that when it happens it is less special. The Gamecocks’ current round has two games remaining in the regular season, against Texas A&M and the Ole Miss, who have already been defeated in previous games this year by a total of 49 points.
Since the 2013-14 season, every team in South Carolina has reached at least the Sweet Sixteen, with the exception of the 2020 team, whose season ended 32-1 due to the pandemic. Staley elevating the profile of women’s basketball in South Carolina is one of the most underrated sports stories of the past decade. Prior to its arrival, the Gamecocks made one trip to the Elite Eight and did not appear in the Final Four. Now, that’s part of the program’s annual outlook.
Staley is the SEC’s highest-paid women’s basketball coach, with $2.9 million, higher than her rival Kim Mulkey, who earned $2.5 million in her first season directing LSU after continuing success at Baylor. Staley is also the second-paid coach in South Carolina right now, behind men’s basketball coach Frank Martin, who will make $3.2 million this season. Gamecocks soccer coach Shane Beamer earned $2.75 million. Staley deserves every bit of her current contract, making her the highest-paid coach in SC by the time her deal hits $3.5 million in 2027.
After securing her new contract in October, Staley put on the strongest coaching job of her career. She said during the 2019-20 season that the team still had patterns based on Aja Wilson, who has not been with the team since 2018 and was drafted first overall that year by the WNBA’s Las Vegas Ace. Staley has had no shortage of talent since Wilson’s career began but there are no signs of Wilson-era scheming affecting this team. A big reason for their next star to appear in Boston.
While the Gamecocks are the boot to be the top seed in the NCAA Tournament, perhaps even with a major late-season breakdown, Boston are the frontrunners for every Division I player of the year award. Its dominance has made those decisions more inevitable than debated. Boston’s average goalscorer of 16.8 points and 11.9 rebounds per game is an elite score. The difference her presence makes every time Gamecocks steps onto the floor. Without it, how many games would South Carolina lose?
Gamecocks has a strong squad ready for the National Championship. This is also a clear statement. For the first time, the NCAA Women’s Championship will be joined by the “March Madness” slogans. It will also be the first tournament in three years outside the bubble, with full fan capabilities. South Carolina just has to finish the job.