Start time: 5:10pm
TV: ESPN2 (Dave Pasch, LaChina Robinson)
Live Stream: ESPN3
Radio/Live Audio: GamecocksOnline.com
Sixty-four teams are in the field. Only a select few will make it to Dallas for the Women’s Final Four this year.
If the South Carolina Gamecocks are to be one of those teams, they’ll need to first take care of business at home in the 2017 NCAA Women’s Basketball Tournament. And it starts today, as they host UNC Asheville in the first round as they enjoy a #1 seed for the fourth straight year and the opportunity that comes with it to host the first and second rounds of the tournament.
Never mind that only one 16 seed (Harvard in 1998) has defeated a one seed in NCAA Tournament history - either on the men’s or women’s side. Yes, the gulf of talent between the Bulldogs and the Gamecocks will be evident by the time the contest ends. But if we know Dawn Staley, we know that she and her team have prepared and practiced as hard for this one as they would for any other game this season.
If South Carolina defeats UNC Asheville (and by all accounts they should), they’ll face a much tougher challenge in Sunday’s second round against eighth-seeded Arizona State or ninth-seeded Michigan State. The Sun Devils have slain a few giants this season - namely Kentucky and Cal - while the Spartans count Ohio State and Michigan among their victims. Round two certainly won’t be a cakewalk for Carolina if they turn in the expected result against UNCA this afternoon.
If the Gamecocks are to get to their second Women’s Final Four, they’ll need to navigate their way through without the services of one of their star players. Senior Alaina Coates, whose ankle injury has seen her declared out for the entirety of the postseason, will be watching from the sidelines. A big blow for sure, but one that the team will need to tackle head-on as other players need to step to the forefront in her stead.
The Bulldogs are 19-14 this season after winning the Big South Tournament despite a .500 (9-9) record in conference play. They’re led in scoring by Chatori Major, who averages 13.9 points a game en route to first-team all-Big South honors. She’s also a markswoman from beyond the arc, sinking nearly 40% of her attempts (76 of 191). Senior center KJ Weaver is the team’s top rebounder with 7.8 points an outing.