South Carolina women’s basketball coach Dawn Staley really wants to have a rivalry with UConn. To her credit, she’s willing to put the Huskies on their schedule every season and play them wherever. When the two teams do meet, Staley does her best to stoke the flames.
This past March before the two teams faced in the Elite Eight, Staley made this cryptic prediction:
“On Monday, you’re going to believe there’s a God.”
UConn beat South Carolina by 29 points on their way to the Final Four, crushing the Gamecocks’ hopes for a championship repeat as well as ending A’ja Wilson’s collegiate career.
Maybe God had South Carolina plus-30?
After that game, she simply stated, “All is well in women’s basketball.”
And that’s been the theme in this “rivalry.” UConn wins. South Carolina loses. Although that’s not completely true, since the Gamecocks did get a commitment from Worcester, Massachusetts native Aliyah Boston, the No. 4 recruit in the class of 2019, leaving the Huskies with just one 2019 recruit. So they have that going for them.
In the latest chapter of Staley’s rivalry on Monday night, UConn defeated the Gamecocks, 97-79, thanks in large part to a dominant third quarter from the Huskies. In that period, UConn outscored the visitors by 17 points. In the other three quarters, it was just a 68-67 game.
Almost like a rivalry game.
“You have to hold, serve, and equally punch back when you hit and if you don’t do that you’ll end up trying to climb your way back into the game,” Staley said afterwards. “But they just come at you in waves. I thought we handled it in the first half, second half we came up short.”
No coach is fond of losing, especially not to UConn, but Staley seemed to imply UConn gets preferential treatment, on their home floor and elsewhere.
“You’re not coming back from a big lead being in this building and the elements that surround the game,” she said, emphasis added.
“You gotta put them back on their heels and expect not to get many calls, fouls called, you just have to play through physical contact, you have to play through attacking the paint.”
This type of subtle banter is a great way to add fuel to what should become a legitimate rivalry. South Carolina is establishing itself as one of the perennial powers in women’s college basketball. The Gamecocks have even won a national title (the year Mississippi State managed to do what South Carolina never has) and beat the Huskies in the NCAA Tournament. But the Huskies just continue to pile up important wins.
During the 2016-17 season, South Carolina was UConn’s 100th consecutive victim during their historic win streak. UConn ended the 2017-18 South Carolina season, and A’ja Wilson’s career, in a game that sent UConn to its tenth straight Final Four. South Carolina has been to two Final Fours ever. And this year, a year in which the Huskies are supposed to be vulnerable after two losses earlier in the season, even with a hot start, the Gamecocks couldn’t even keep the game to within single digits.
So Staley can say what she wants. The Gamecocks can score victories over the Huskies on the recruiting trail. But eventually, they have to do what really matters in a rivalry to make it a rivalry: Win.