Dawn Staley on No. 1-ranked Gamecocks: 'Crown us the national champion'

Dawn Staley has a legitimate gripe and it dates to before the NCAA announced it was canceling the women’s basketball tournament.

Her South Carolina Gamecocks were a favorite to win the 2020 national championship and have held the No. 1 ranking in the Associated Press poll since mid-January. Yet, they received little attention for it and watched as others got high praise. Now with the chance to show it on the court off the table, South Carolina also has a “what if” and Staley wants that recognized just as it has been for Oregon and Sabrina Ionescu.

So the title-winning coach, as she has done at times throughout the season, spoke out about the disrespect ahead of the Associated Press naming her Coach of the Year. And she’s not shying away from asking for the Gamecocks to be crowned national champs.

Gamecocks ‘didn’t get treated’ like No. 1 team

Staley has noted on Twitter throughout the season her team was being overlooked even though it ranked No. 1 in both the AP and USA Today Coaches Poll.

The Gamecocks (32-1, 16-0) took over on Jan. 13 and held the top spot for 10 weeks, finishing the season as No. 1 for the first time in program history. They won the SEC regular-season and tournament titles and suffered only one loss to Indiana back in November.

Oregon entered the season as heavy favorites, but held the top seed for only four weeks until losing at Paradise Jam over Thanksgiving. Stanford took over for three weeks and UConn followed for another three.

Yet for the past two-plus months, South Carolina has received little fanfare for the accomplishment and watched as other teams received a heap of praise.

“Here’s why I got mad,” Staley said on the Her Hoops Stats Podcast. “I don’t know if this is the place to do it, but you asked my raw thoughts and my feelings and I’m going to give them to you. I thought that our team, being the No. 1 team in the country for over half, about half the season, I don’t think we got our just due. I don’t think we were treated like other No. 1 teams in the country this year, or the previous years.

“I felt like our team just kept getting passed by. Individuals, as well as our entire team. For what reason? I don’t know. But the narrative didn’t point to south Carolina [and] the great job that our players were doing.”

Staley said previously that senior point guard Tyasha Harris is WNBA ready and should be a first-round pick. Since the John Wooden Award and Nancy Lieberman Award candidate wasn’t on mock draft lists, Staley said she had to push that narrative herself.

Staley told The Undefeated she wasn’t out to invalidate others’ success, such as Oregon’s incredible season. She said there is room to celebrate others’ achievements, as well, and this women’s basketball campaign had plenty of them.

Greenville, SC, USA; South Carolina Gamecocks head coach Dawn Staley gives instructions during the first half against the Georgia Lady Bulldogs at Bon Secours Wellness Arena. Mandatory Credit: Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports
South Carolina finished the year ranked No. 1 and Dawn Staley wants her players to be recognized for it. (Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports)

No. 1 recruiting class to No. 1 in country

South Carolina, Oregon and Baylor — the first- through third-ranked teams in the final AP poll — established themselves from the rest of the pack in the second half of the NCAA season.

Oregon did it with Ionescu, who stands alone in the record books and was named only the second unanimous AP Player of the Year on Monday. She joins UConn’s Breanna Stewart as the only unanimous selections. The Ducks also had talented experience in junior Satou Sabally, senior Ruthy Hebard and graduate transfer Minyon Moore.

Baylor is the reigning national champion and had All-American Lauren Cox back, even though she missed time due to an ankle injury. The Bears lost on the final day of the season to an unranked Iowa State and had an easy time in conference play.

South Carolina came in with the No. 1 recruiting class in the nation, but that doesn’t always translate to immediate success. In Columbia, it did.

Three freshmen — Aliyah Boston, Zia Cooke and Brea Beal — started every game this season. Boston was a block machine and is a finalist for the Naismith Defensive Player of the Year Award. Seniors Harris and Mikiah Herbert Harrigan, who initially entered the transfer portal after the 2019 title game, led the way.

That her team succeeded with that type of storyline, but didn’t get much of the coverage, irked Staley.

Staley: Crown us national champs

South Carolina, ranked first in RPI, and Oregon, ranked second, unfortunately won’t be able to take the court to decide which team is the 2020 national champion. (First, they would have to get through the bracket and while likely, it’s not certain they would.)

This will always be an “if only” moment in women’s basketball history that could have amped up the game even more. These were two teams at the top of their game playing in front of sold-out crowds with players who will go on to incredible WNBA careers.

“Every team, every fan base, can say they’re the very best,” Staley said, via The Undefeated. “Every team can’t say they’re the No. 1 team in the country.

“Crown us the national champion.”

Staley told the AP last week she hopes the school does something to recognize the season her team had, such as a banner in the gymnasium.

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