March 12, 2024 

Locked On Women’s Basketball: Dawn Staley, South Carolina win, Angel Reese battles, Lady Vols endure

Raven Johnson: 'If Coach Staley felt like we could win, I felt like we could win.'

On today’s episode of Locked On Women’s Basketball, The Next‘s Gabriella Lewis joins host Howard Megdal to talk about her coverage of the SEC Tournament, which concluded this weekend. South Carolina capped off their undefeated season with a second-straight SEC title, defeating defending national champion LSU 79–72.

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They first discussed South Carolina’s dominance in the conference, and how this year’s team has so far lived up to the example set by their 2022–23 counterpart.

“I think they are extremely good, and an argument could be made that they’re better than last year,” Lewis said. “But last year I think the team felt truly untouchable … that senior class had lost one game at home their entire career and I think they really didn’t even know how it felt to lose. And so this year’s team I think is extremely good, but it’s fresh in their mind the loss in March Madness last year.”

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“They also have had some moments where it’s been close games, right? It was a 10 point game with Texas A&M. Texas A&M is quite good … the Tennessee game they quite literally almost lost except Kamilla Cardoso hits a three, the first of her career. … They’ve gotten so many more close calls and Dawn Staley … after the LSU game said that ‘By the law of dynamics you can’t keep having these close games and win every single one.’ And if anyone can do it, it’s probably South Carolina. But I think, to me, it’s dramatic, the difference between the spreads they were beating people in last year and this year, and again, I think they’re extremely good. I think they’re the best in the nation. But don’t think they’re as good as they were last year. And I think many would disagree with me on that.”

Then, they discussed how the Gamecocks’ close games against Tennessee and otherwise have both shown their vulnerabilities, but also contributed to the team’s motivation to win it all.

“It makes them feel like there’s an ability to lose, but I think that has to instill the fear of God in them a little bit, of we really didn’t want to lose,” Lewis said. “Raven Johnson, after the game, said ‘I wanted to cry on that court. All I could think about was like losing last year.’ … but then the caveats to that was ‘If Coach Staley felt like we could win, I felt like we could win.’ And, you know, I think it’s no breaking story that South Carolina players have an unbelievable amount of trust in Coach Staley. That’s really special to have a coach where you’re like, as long as she’s in it, we’re in it.”

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Lewis also added some additional context around the fight that broke out towards the end of the fourth quarter of the SEC title game against LSU that resulted in six players being ejected.

“I think that fight, [with] a lot of players being ejected is also probably going to kind of make them realize how important this is and how you can leave a game for a situation like that,” she said. “Coach Staley was not happy with them, so I think there’s going to be probably some new perspective this week.”

They also discussed Cardoso’s impact on the SEC title game, how LSU is looking as March Madness approaches, Tennessee’s combo of Rickea Jackson and Jewel Spear, and much more from the SEC Tournament. Make sure to subscribe to the Locked On Women’s Basketball podcast to keep learning about the WNBA, women’s college basketball and basketball history.

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