COLUMBIA — South Carolina coach Dawn Staley has had to multitask this week, dealing with serious concerns on and off the court.
Staley and the Gamecocks have preparing to play No. 1 UConn while the coach dealt with comments by Missouri athletic director Jim Sterk’s comments that she fostered a hostile atmosphere during last Sunday’s game against the Tigers.
“I’m a master compartmentalist,” Staley said Wednesday. “Anytime you deal with distractions, you prioritize and the priority right now is UConn. That’s been my focus. Did I lose a little sleep last night? Yes. But there’s another game to be played.”
That’s tonight when No. 7 South Carolina (18-3) takes on the top-ranked Huskies (20-0) in the latest top-10 matchup between the programs.
But Staley has had to double back to the Missouri game and Sterk’s charge. He told the Columbia, Mo., radio station KTGR on Monday that Staley promoted a bad climate for the Gamecocks 64-54 victory that led to fans using racial slurs and spitting on Missouri players as they left the court.
“We had players spit on and called the N-word and things like that. It was not a good environment,” Sterk told the station. “And unfortunately I think Coach Staley promoted that kind of atmosphere, and it’s unfortunate that she felt she had to do that.”
Staley said Sterk’s assertions were “serious and false.” She said they would be addressed through proper channels.
During the Missouri game there was a brief scuffle when South Carolina’s Alexis Jennings and Missouri’s Kayla Michaels battled for a loose ball and both hit the floor hard still locked up. Players on both sides ran to the scrum. Officials took about 15 minutes to decide on penalties: Two Missouri reserves were ejected for leaving the bench while a starter on each side – Missouri’s Sophie Cunningham and South Carolina’s Doniyah Cliney – were assessed unsportsmanlike fouls.
In her postgame comments, Missouri coach Robin Pingeton complimented South Carolina’s crowd and the big-game atmosphere.
South Carolina athletic director Ray Tanner said he investigated what occurred when Missouri left the court and found no evidence to back up Sterk’s charges.