Dawn Staley, No. 1 South Carolina know 'teams are lurking'

GREENVILLE, S.C. -- With all four No. 1 seeds in the men's NCAA tournament eliminated along with two on the women's side, South Carolina Gamecocks coach Dawn Staley acknowledged it has made her all the more vigilant about the mindset and preparation of her undefeated team.

"Obviously, we're watching with just enjoying March Madness," Staley said of keeping track of the upsets. "Yeah, it does make you a little bit nervous when you're in the driver's seat, so to speak, in being the No. 1 seed, that teams are lurking."

But so far, no one has challenged the Gamecocks, the No. 1 overall seed in the women's NCAA tournament. The latest to try was the No. 4-seeded UCLA Bruins, who were no match for the defending national champions in the Greenville 1 Regional semifinals Saturday. The Gamecocks won 59-43, moving to 35-0 and one victory from their third consecutive women's Final Four appearance.

They aren't taking any of it for granted, though. South Carolina senior standouts Aliyah Boston and Zia Cooke acknowledged they have taken note of the fate of other No. 1 seeds.

On March 17, the No. 1-seeded Purdue men were stunned by No. 16 Fairleigh Dickinson in the first round. The next day, No. 1 seed and defending men's champ Kansas lost to No. 8 Arkansas.

When South Carolina won its second-round game against the No. 8-seeded South Florida Bulls on Sunday afternoon, all four No. 1 seeds on the women's side were still alive. But that night, the No. 1 Stanford Cardinal were upset by No. 8 Ole Miss. Then Monday, the No. 1 Indiana Hoosiers fell to the No. 9 Miami Hurricanes, who are now in the Elite Eight.

The last two No. 1 seeds on the men's side, Alabama and Houston, lost Friday night. So by Saturday, only the South Carolina and Virginia Tech women still survived as No. 1 seeds in either tournament.

The Gamecocks have won their three NCAA tournament games thus far by an average of 26.3 points. UCLA, 27-10, tried everything it could to break through offensively Saturday, but South Carolina's defense was too good. The Bruins were held to just 15 points in the first half, shooting 29.4% from the field for the game.

The Gamecocks' 59 points were 22 below their season average, but it didn't matter much with how they were able to clamp down on UCLA's offense.

"Defensively and rebounding-wise, they may be the best. If not, one of the best," UCLA coach Cori Close said of how the Gamecocks rate compared to top defensive teams she has seen.

In Monday's regional final, South Carolina will face the No. 2-seeded Maryland Terrapins, who downed No. 3 seed Notre Dame 76-59 earlier Saturday. When the Gamecocks and Terps met Nov. 11, South Carolina won 81-56. With so many new faces this season, the Terps are much improved since the start of the season. But the Gamecocks, even though they started the season No. 1, are better, too.

Part of that is just how poised they are, and Staley is counting on that continuing. So even when she sees the upsets of other No. 1s, she feels confident her team can avoid the same fate.

"Does it force you to tighten up a little bit more your game plan and making sure that you're crossing every 't' and dotting every 'i'? Yes, it does," Staley said. "But for me, I'm going to rely on the habits that we've formed all season long. If we do that, you know, we've won every game. I just hope that we're able to play like we've played for the 35 games that we've played. That's my prayer for our team, just to do that."