COLUMBIA — This is one trip West that South Carolina coach Dawn Staley believes her top-seeded Gamecocks should not have to make.
South Carolina earned its fourth straight No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament on Monday night, topping the regional in Stockton, Calif. Staley thinks her four-time defending Southeastern Conference champions should’ve been located closer to home instead of three time zones away.
“I don’t know what more we can do,” Staley said shortly after the brackets were announced.
The Gamecocks (27-4) open play Friday against 16th-seeded UNC Asheville (19-14), the Big South Conference Tournament champion.
It’s the second time in a row that top-seeded South Carolina was sent out of its comfy Eastern time zone. Last year, it was Syracuse who ended South Carolina’s run in the Sweet 16 in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. The Gamecocks also lost in the round of 16 to North Carolina in 2014, playing at Stanford.
South Carolina would have preferred to land in the Lexington Regional in place of top seed Notre Dame. The Gamecocks even thought Baylor’s loss in the Big 12 Tournament might open the spot in Oklahoma City over that No. 1 seed. Instead, it was the latest Western swing for South Carolina.
Staley said she’s talked with members of the selection committee during the offseason to find out why her team that led the country in attendance the past three years is sent so far from home. “They give me what took place in the room,” she said. “I’m looking forward to those conversations.”
The Gamecock players are looking forward to the tournament no matter where they play. Two-time SEC player of the year A’ja Wilson thinks she might just put her arm around her coach to calm her down. “Just breath, coach,” Wilson joked.
The only time the four-time Southeastern Conference champions advanced to the Final Four was when they headed up a regional in Greensboro, N.C., in 2015.
Things to watch for in the Stockton Regional:
OREGON STATE SEEKING MORE: The second-seeded Beavers were part of a surprise Final Four last year, making their first appearance where they fell to four-time defending national champion UConn in the semifinals. Oregon State left little doubt about contending again, winning the Pac 12 Conference regular season to go 29-4.
COATES CONDITION: SEC leading rebounder Alaina Coates has not practiced for South Carolina since missing the league tournament’s title game with an injured right ankle. Coates, a 6-foot-4 senior, has missed three of the past five games since initially hurting herself at Missouri on Feb. 19.
SUNSHINE STATE: Two of Florida’s rising women’s programs in No. 3 seed Florida State and No. 4 seed Miami are both in the regional and would join the East Coast Gamecocks on the trip West should the seedings hold through the first two rounds. The Seminoles and Hurricanes both open at home.
SOARING EAGLES: Marquette made its 10th NCAA Tournament appearance and earned the highest-ever seed at No. 5. The Golden Eagles will open against 12th-seeded Quinnipiac in Coral Gables, Florida. Speaking of Quinnipiac, the Bobcats are among 24 teams nationally with six straight seasons of 20 or more victories.
REGIONAL BREAKDOWN: There are nine teams from the Eastern time zone in the 16-team Stockton Regional, including three of the top four seeds. There are just three teams from the Pacific time zone in No. 2 seed Oregon State, No. 8 seed Arizona State and No. 15 seed Long Beach State.