South Carolina, Oregon given historic end to season despite NCAA tournament cancellation

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Cassandra Negley
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South Carolina head coach Dawn Staley, center right, and Tyasha Harris, center left, acknowledge the crowd after defeating Mississippi State in a championship match at the Southeastern Conference women's NCAA college basketball tournament in Greenville, S.C., Sunday, March 8, 2020. (AP Photo/Richard Shiro)
South Carolina head coach Dawn Staley, center right, and Tyasha Harris, center left, acknowledge the crowd after the Pac-12 championship. The team ranked No. 1 to end the year. (AP Photo/Richard Shiro)

South Carolina and Oregon didn’t get to play it out on the court in New Orleans this spring, but they’re still ending their season with historic high notes.

The Gamecocks finished the season ranked No. 1 in the Associated Press Top 25 for the first time in school history with 26 first-place votes. Oregon (four first-place votes) moved into the second spot after Baylor’s season ending loss to Iowa State. It’s also their highest final ranking in program history.

The final rankings are always released before the NCAA tournament, meaning champions don’t always finish the year ranked as No. 1 but typically start the next season on top. This was the case for the Gamecocks in 2017, when they won their first and only national championship.

South Carolina finishes No. 1 for first time

South Carolina (32-1, 16-0) was ranked No. 1 in the poll for the past 10 weeks, taking over from Oregon (four weeks), Stanford (three weeks) and Connecticut (three weeks) in a parity-filled start to the season. The team had never finished higher than No. 3 in the final rankings.

"In what has been one of, if not the most parity-filled, competitive women's basketball seasons, it is good to see the hard work, determination and incredible accomplishments of our team recognized on the national stage," head coach Dawn Staley told the team site.

“Earning the final No. 1 ranking in both of these polls does what our team wanted — it leaves no question of what they achieved, it solidifies their place in history and shows the world that 'what is delayed is not denied.'"

South Carolina went undefeated in conference play and won the SEC championship with ease behind a starting five of seniors Tyasha Harris and Mikiah Herbert Harrigan; and freshmen Aliyah Boston, Zia Cooke and Brea Brea Beal. The team set records for winning percentage (.970), winning streak (26), scoring average (82.0 ppg), rebounding average (46.5 rpg) and blocked shots (284).

They averaged more than 12,000 fans per game at Colonial life Arena.

Staley said she wasn’t sure if the school would recognize the accomplishment with a banner or some other acknowledgement since the NCAA tournament was canceled. She said it was “fitting” for the seniors and team to do so. She and Oregon head coach Kelly Graves are semifinalists for the Naismith Coach of the Year award. Finalists will be named Thursday.

Oregon finishes second

The Oregon Ducks (31-2, 17-1) were poised to meet South Carolina in the women’s national championship game behind Sabrina Ionescu, Satou Sabally and Ruthy Hebard. All are projected to be first-round picks in the WNBA draft next month.

The Ducks finished second in the final AP poll, besting the previous high of sixth two seasons ago. They were seventh last season when they went on to make their first Final Four in program history.

Oregon won the Pac-12 championship with a dominant 33-point victory over Stanford. It finished the campaign on a 19-game win streak and outscored opponents by 25.5 points per game in the stretch.

It led the nation in scoring (86.0 ppg), field-goal percentage (50.9) and assist-to-turnover ratio (1.91). All five incoming signees were named McDonald’s All-Americans.

The Pac-12 had three teams in the top 10 and six in the top 25 rankings following a thrilling year. No. 7 Stanford, No. 10 UCLA, No. 12 Arizona, No. 14 Oregon State and No. 25 Arizona State joined Oregon in the rankings.

UConn: Lowest ranking since 2006

UConn (29-3, 16-0) finished ranked fifth, its lowest since being eighth in the 2005-06 season. The team has been ranked at least fourth ever since.

The Huskies were not a lock to extend their record 12 Final Four appearances, though their only losses of the season were to South Carolina, Oregon and Baylor. They completed their stay in the American Athletic Conference (AAC) with a pristine 139-0 record.

The powerhouse will welcome Paige Bueckers, the top-ranked 2020 recruit in the country, to their squad this summer. Ionescu gave the Minnesota superstar a shoutout in the comments of her Instagram post, writing “next up.

Northwestern, Princeton with momentous finishes

Northwestern took a share of the regular season Big Ten title and finished 11th in the poll. It’s the the Wildcats’ highest ranking ever, overtaking No. 13 in 1990. It’s only the sixth time in program history the Wildcats have made the final poll.

Princeton is ranked No. 22 in the final poll, only the third time the Ivy League program got a call in the final rankings. The 2012 and 2015 teams were also ranked. In 2015, the team went undefeated until the NCAA tournament and was 13th. The Tigers won the Ivy regular season title and earned the automatic bid since the Ivy tournament was also canceled.

Final AP Top 25 rankings (March 17)

Team (record) (AP points)

  1. South Carolina (32-1)(746)

  2. Oregon (31-2)(724)

  3. Baylor (28-2)(676)

  4. Maryland (28-4)(654)

  5. UConn (29-3)(642)

  6. Louisville (28-4)(588)

  7. Stanford (27-6)(560)

  8. NC State (28-4)(543)

  9. Mississippi State (27-6)(505)

  10. UCLA (26-5)(5-1)

  11. Northwestern (26-4)(394)

  12. Arizona (24-7)(385)

  13. Gonzaga (28-3)(359)

  14. Oregon State (23-9)(321)

  15. DePaul (28-5)(298)

  16. Kentucky (22-8)(283)

  17. South Dakota (30-2)(259)

  18. Texas A&M (22-8)(246)

  19. Florida State (24-8)(239)

  20. Indiana (24-8)(194)

  21. Iowa (23-7)(174)

  22. Princeton (26-1)(163)

  23. Missouri State (26-4)(121)

  24. Arkansas (24-8)(97)

  25. Arizona State (20-11)(31)

Receiving votes: TCU (11), Ohio State (10), Boston College (6), Marquette (5), Rutgers (4), Florida Gulf Coast (3), Texas (2), Boise State (2), Iowa State (2), Duke (1), Central Michigan (1).

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