Gamecocks earn No. 1 seed in NCAA Tournament

Gamecocks earn No. 1 seed in NCAA Tournament
USC coach Dawn Staley with net after win South Carolina v Georgia SEC Women's Basketball Tournament on Sunday, March 7, 2021 in Greenville, SC. (Source: Todd Van Emst/SEC)

COLUMBIA, S.C. (WIS) -South Carolina earns a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Women’s Tournament.

The Gamecocks are the top seed in the Hemisfair Region. They’ll face the Mercer Bears on Sunday, at 6 PM ET on ESPN.

The reveal on Selection Monday offered plenty of excitement for sophomore forward Aliyah Boston and her teammates.

“I was so excited,” said Boston. “I had my phone ready to record everybody’s reaction. I was like, this is the best time of my life.”

“Their eyes lit up when they saw South Carolina across the screen,” said head coach Dawn Staley. “It’s cool. Her [Boston] mind is spinning because she’s trying to see the big picture. I love that about her.”

It marks the fifth time in program history the Gamecocks land a spot on the bracket’s top line. The previous four runs as a number one occurred in 2014, 2015, 2016, and 2017 when they captured the school’s lone national championship.

Carolina was in line to be the number one overall seed last season before the NCAA Tournament was canceled due to COVID-19.

Staley’s squad brings a fresh approach to the dance. It’s not about unfinished business. The focus rests on this year’s team reaching its full potential by playing its best basketball.

“This team’s identity is a lot different than last year’s team,” Staley said. “This team is continuing to try to figure it out. Last year’s team knew what our potential was and how to cater to that. This year we’re trying to figure that out. Finding their way to play their best basketball on each day, and not look ahead. Be in the moment.”

South Carolina finished the regular season with a 22-4 overall record, posting a 14-2 conference mark. The Gamecocks repeated as SEC Tournament champions after playing one of the toughest schedules in the country.

“We’re really excited about the opportunity,” added Boston. “Last year was taken away really quickly. Excited to see what happens in San Antonio. I think we’ve been doing a lot of work, and we’re ready for it.”

This is the ninth-consecutive NCAA Tournament bid for the Gamecocks, the longest streak in program history.

Unlike previous tournaments, all games take place at a host site in Texas. First Round games take place in San Antonio, Austin, and San Marcos.

And the team will enter quarantine upon arrival. It will not be an entirely new experience, given the circumstances of this past season.

“Every time we went on the road, it was a bubble-like setting,” added Staley. “It will be heightened ten times more. They don’t want you to even come out of your rooms. Everybody gets their own room. For us, we are going to do things that will hopefully get them in a place that we can have a little fun in their rooms.”

Activities will vary and will include zoom exercises to providing a basketball to dribble while in isolation. Staley does not want quarantine to be “such a drag.”

“We don’t want them lying in bed for 16 hours,” Staley said. “We want them active and doing things, getting their minds right for what we’re faced with.”

“We have to be locked in with everything we do,” Boston said about the upcoming tournament experience. “Continue to do what we have been doing. Listening to coaches when it comes to on the court stuff, and be engaged in every aspect of it.”

Boston believes playing through a pandemic created avenues for this team to become closer throughout the year.

Aliyah Boston discusses NCAA Tournament with the media

“Definitely have gotten so much closer as the season went on,” Boston said. “I think we’re ready to go into San Antonio as a team, ready to play as a team. We have such a great relationship on and off the court. It’s definitely an important aspect of how successful we are.”

The Gamecocks have played in 10 Sweet 16s in their 16 previous times in the event, reaching that round in seven of their last eight tournament appearances and advancing to the Elite Eight three times in their last five NCAA Tournaments. South Carolina owns a 30-15 record all-time in the event.

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