Georgia Lady Bulldogs coach Andy Landers knows what it's like to win SEC Championships. Although not on the same level as Pat Summit's Tennessee Lady Volunteers, Landers's program has consistently been among the SEC's best in his 30+ years in Athens. Therefore, it was fitting that he was the opposing coach who would congratulate the coach who South Carolina fans hope is the next great SEC women's hoops coach on her first SEC Title. Dawn Staley's Lady Gamecocks defeated Landers's Lady Bulldogs this evening 67-56. The win clinches sole possession of the SEC regular season title for Carolina.
The title is Carolina's first in women's basketball. Many were skeptical that Staley could achieve this level of success at a school without much history in the sport. It was reasonable to believe that even if Staley improved the program at Carolina, the Lady Gamecocks would struggle to ever supplant programs like UGA, Kentucky, and especially Tennessee in a perennially stratified sport. That perception has been exploded now that Carolina has climbed to the mountain top in the conference, with the potential for success on the national scene to follow if Carolina can make a deep run in the NCAA Tournament.
Many fans also wondered when Staley was hired if she was worth her hefty salary given the traditionally low level of fan interest in women's basketball among Carolina fans. When Eric Hyman hired Staley, though, he knew that winning women's basketball could sell tickets and get viewers tuned into the TV. He was right--Carolina women's hoops has captured fan interest this season, culminating in a turnout of 12,458 to watch the team secure this championship.
Tiffany Mitchell led Carolina with 25 points, scoring most of her points off the dribble and by getting to the line, where she was 10-10 on the night. Alaina Coates added 18 as she closes her bid for SEC Freshman of the Year. As usual, the Lady Gamecocks were dominant defensively, holding UGA to 32.8% from the field.
Carolina closes the regular season on Sunday in Knoxville against Tennessee. This game is an excellent chance for Carolina to get one more high-profile victory to hold in its pocket come Selection Sunday, when it will be hoping for a one seed.