Dawn Staley explains decision to cancel UConn game, face Ole Miss instead

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Tracy Glantz/tglantz@thestate.com
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Canceling the Gamecocks’ Thursday matchup with UConn in favor of hosting Ole Miss on the same date was about choosing a conference game over a non-conference game, South Carolina women’s basketball coach Dawn Staley said.

In a press conference following the Gamecocks’ 55-point win over Vanderbilt on Monday, Staley discussed the thought process behind her decision to reach out to UConn head coach Geno Auriemma and call off the Huskies’ previously planned trip to Colonial Life Arena this Thursday.

“When you know you’ve got to play the (Ole Miss) game and make it up, you try to figure out where,” Staley said.

COVID-19 issues in the Ole Miss program postponed the Jan. 2 game against South Carolina. The Gamecocks then found an opponent for that date, electing to slide Mississippi State up earlier in the schedule from Feb. 6.

The decision to make up the Ole Miss game on Thursday was based on logistics, Staley said. South Carolina had the Feb. 6 date open on its schedule . But Ole Miss, which also had to postpone a game against Arkansas scheduled for Dec. 30, had been discussing using that Feb. 6 spot for the game against the Razorbacks, Staley said, instead of South Carolina.

“I don’t know why we weren’t included in that space, but we weren’t,” Staley said. “So it was going to either have to be a Tuesday after playing, like (Monday), Thursday, Sunday, Tuesday, Thursday, Sunday. I just felt like it wasn’t equitable for us.”

Staley said the resolution came when she found out Ole Miss would be off this Thursday. She sent Auriemma a text message last Friday, and the two talked on the phone Saturday. The decision was made public Sunday night.

“That’s how it came about,” Staley said. “It wasn’t anything besides us choosing our conference game over a non-conference game.”

Had the Gamecocks failed to reschedule the Ole Miss game, they would’ve had one less SEC matchup on their schedule, which could work against them in their hunt to win a regular-season conference title.

The Gamecocks are currently second in the SEC standings behind Tennessee, which is 7-0 in conference play. South Carolina, 6-1 in SEC action, lost its conference opener at Missouri on Dec. 30. The Gamecocks play Tennessee once in the regular season on Feb. 20 at Colonial Life Arena.

Ole Miss is coming to Columbia on Thursday ranked No. 24, its first time in the AP Top 25 since 2007. The Rebels are 5-1 in conference play, good for third in the conference.

This week’s previously scheduled game between South Carolina and UConn was the last in the most recent home-and-home agreement between the teams. The two programs signed a new agreement over the summer to cover the next two seasons. UConn’s release about the cancellation stated that the two will work to reschedule this year’s game in a future season.

While she understood that losing this year’s UConn matchup at Colonial Life Arena was difficult for some fans, Staley said prioritizing the program was most important in the scheduling decision.

“I’m always going to do what’s best for our program, even if it hurts me personally and if it hurts the fans a little bit,” Staley said. “I hope everyone that was coming on Thursday when we were playing Connecticut comes (for Ole Miss). We’ve got a good, competitive game, a top-three conference game, so it should be pretty exciting to rock this building out.”

South Carolina and UConn played once this season on Nov. 22 for the Battle 4 Atlantis Championship in Paradise Island, Bahamas. The Gamecocks won over the then-No. 2 Huskies 73-57.

South Carolina vs Ole Miss game info

Who: No. 1 South Carolina Gamecocks (18-1, 6-1 SEC) vs. No. 24 Ole Miss Rebels (17-2, 5-1 SEC)

When: 6 p.m. Thursday

Where: Colonial Life Arena in Columbia, S.C.

Watch: ESPN