Photo gallery (photos by Allen Sharpe)
For the fourth consecutive year, the South Carolina women's basketball team has earned a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament.
However, that doesn't mean that head coach Dawn Staley was overly pleased when she learned the news on Monday, March 13.
The reason? Well, South Carolina was placed as the top seed out in the Stockton, California Regional. That marks the third time out of those four straight years of being a No. 1 seed that the Gamecocks have been placed in a regional far from home.
"We only lost to one top 25 team," Staley said. "I don't know what more we could do. We won our conference tournament to play closer two years ago. We got sent to Greensboro. Last year we had to take the time zone flight. I thought it was our turn to get it flipped back over to the Greensboro kind of ideology. I'm very disappointed."
But before worrying about Stockton, the Gamecocks have to take care of business at home. They will open up the NCAA Tournament at Colonial Life Arena on Friday, March 17, against No. 16 seed UNC Asheville. Tipoff for the first round matchup is set for 5 p.m. and can be seen on ESPN2.
The winner of that matchup will advance to take on the winner of eighth-seeded Arizona State and ninth-seeded Michigan State.
While Staley wasn't happy with the region her team was placed in, it's always an incredible advantage to play the first two rounds in the comfort of your home gym, and the Gamecocks are excited about that opportunity. They know it's extremely hard to get a No. 1 seed in general.
"Everywhere we go, I think our fans are going to be supporting us and cheering for us," Staley said. "You walk down the street (and) they're always patting us on the back. The electricity that's going to be in Colonial Life Arena on Friday is something that we're going to draw on to give us energy."
South Carolina has advanced to at least the Sweet Sixteen in each of the previous three years, including a Final Four berth in 2014-15.
The No. 1 seed is a remarkable accomplishment for South Carolina, which had to fight for that top seed more than they've had to in the last couple of years.
Just a couple of weeks ago, the Gamecocks were second in the SEC and it appeared Mississippi State would be the recipient of one of the four No. 1 seeds. However, South Carolina fought back to win the SEC regular season title over the Lady Bulldogs before knocking off Mississippi State in the SEC Tournament Championship game to claim its third straight tournament title.
That was ultimately enough to get the Gamecocks back on top.
"It's been fun," Kaela Davis said of the last couple weeks. "This is a great group of girls, and we have fun with everything we do."
The Gamecocks enter the NCAA Tournament on a roll, and one of the main reasons for the success has been the contributions of several players. South Carolina struggles when it has to rely too much on Alaina Coates and A'ja Wilson, but players like Davis, Tyasha Harris and Mikiah Herbert Harrigan has stepped up during the end-of-season run.
As a freshman, Harris has done a great job of running the team at point guard. Now she's getting ready for her first NCAA Tournament experience.
"Just stay the course," Harris said of the best piece of advice she's gotten about the NCAA Tournament. "Stay you. Don't change up because of the whole big NCAA Tournament. Always play your game at 100 percent."
For more information on tickets, click here.
**Story by Kyle Heck/photo by Allen Sharpe**