Dawn Staley: South Carolina doesn’t need loss as motivation

(Brianna Paciorka/News Sentinel/USA TODAY NETWORK)

South Carolina women’s basketball has been down but never out this season.

Dawn Staley, who has coached the No. 1 Gamecocks (28-0) to an undefeated record heading into Sunday’s regular-season finale against Georgia, does not believe her team needs a loss to have an edge.

“I just talked to our players about this today,” Staley said Wednesday. “We don’t need a loss to make a push. Last year did we need it? Maybe. I don’t know. But it happened. And it was a push that helped us.”

During the 2021-22 season, South Carolina lost a midseason contest against Missouri in overtime, then lost again in the SEC tournament final to Kentucky. The squad went on to win the NCAA tournament championship.

This season, the Gamecocks have had several close calls, including in their 73-60 win Thursday against unranked Tennessee.

A 10-point first quarter ended with the Gamecocks down by nine points, but they battled back to take the victory with four players scoring in double digits. Brea Beal had a double-double (11 points, 11 rebounds), while Kamilla Cardoso had 15 rebounds. 

Despite Rickea Jackson’s 21 points for the Volunteers, South Carolina proved too strong to topple.

Twice under Staley the team has finished the regular season undefeated in SEC play, though the program has never finished undefeated through an entire season. Just nine teams (and four programs) have accomplished that feat: Texas (1986), Tennessee (1998), Baylor (2012) and UConn (1995, 2002, 2009, 2010, 2014, 2016).

“They’re not coming into practice thinking, ‘Oh, we’re undefeated,'” Staley said of her team. “It’s not something in the forefront of their minds. Even when we played as close as we did in the overtime game at Ole Miss, they never flinched. They didn’t think about it. They just went into the mode of, ‘We’ve just got to do whatever it takes to win, however many minutes that is.’”