The reigning SEC champion South Carolina women learned their NCAA Tournament fate Monday evening, and the results were mixed. The No. 2 seeded Gamecocks at least don’t have to travel to the West Coast, as they have in previous seasons. But they’ve instead been sent to the Albany Regional, where a certain undefeated No. 1 overall seed lies in wait.
Coach Dawn Staley didn’t mince any words about the assignment to UConn’s bracket, blasting the committee for not allowing one of the best fanbases in women’s basketball the opportunity to travel well:
If the NCAA talks about putting people in the seats, we’ve done that. We’ve done that for four years. And we’ve only been to a place in which our fans can drive once. We just have to rethink as a committee what’s important, because what they tell us is important is attendance. And our fans who’ve been the No. 1 (in terms of attendance) in the country for four years don’t get a chance to drive and support our teams in a way that, in the numbers that they could have.
She also expressed her desire to see the current regional format changed, emphasizing that the Gamecocks have routinely been sent to far-flung locales for what appears to be no justifiable reason:
We work hard, we put ourselves in a great position, and it just seems like time and time again, we always get the short end of the stick. And I know people are going to say I’m complaining, I’m doing this. I have to speak out for our program. I have to speak up for our program, because I don’t think there’s anybody in the room who’s speaking up for our program and our fans and what we’ve been able to accomplish over the past four years.
It’s a curious decision by the committee, which has now bypassed placing South Carolina in the convenient Lexington Regional for two years running. From a competition standpoint, it’s also baffling to put two of the best teams in the country in the same regional without allowing them the chance to duke it out in the Final Four or national title game.
From South Carolina’s perspective, it’s unquestionably a brutal draw — the distance hurts, but this would be a tough assignment regardless of the game’s location. The Gamecocks hosted the No. 1 Huskies in the regular season on Feb. 1, falling 83-58.
South Carolina opens NCAA Tournament action against the 15th-seeded N.C. A&T Aggies on Friday at 7:30 p.m.