South Carolina continued its history-making season when NCAA Tournament seeds were announced Monday.
The Gamecocks earned the No. 1 seed in the Stanford Region. It is the first time in program history that the Gamecocks have earned the top seed. They will play in Seattle at Alaska Airlines Arena on the campus of the University of Washington.
The Gamecocks will play No. 16-seed Cal State Northridge on Sunday at 5:30 PM. The Gamecocks have never played the Matadors before. The winner of that game will play the winner of the 8/9 game between Middle Tennessee State and Oregon State. The Stanford region also has North Carolina in it as a four seed, setting up a potential rematch of South Carolina's only non-conference loss. On the other side of the bracket is #2 Stanford, who eliminated South Carolina in the Sweet Sixteen of the Stanford region two years ago, and another SEC team, #11 Florida.
Going into the selection show, most prognosticators had the Gamecocks as a two seed in either Ames, IA, or Toledo, OH. Most of the Gamecocks were expecting to land a two seed somewhere.
"With the committee you never know," said Aleighsa Welch. "When it came up and we had the one seed, it made your heart drop."
"We were prepared to handle" being a two seed, said Tiffany Mitchell. "Being a one seed, we're blessed and thankful they had enough faith in us to project us as a one seed."
But as the brackets were unveiled it became clear that that the selection committee thought highly of the SEC. SEC Tournament Champion Tennessee got one top seed,
"The committee really understands," said head coach Dawn Staley. "It's fitting for our conference to be seen this way. We beat each other up."
In all, eight SEC teams made the field.
At one point, ESPN cameras caught Staley looking at her phone ("I'm nervous," she tweeted during the selection show). Staley joked that ESPN could have saved her a lot of stress by letting her know the seed ahead of time.
"I knew that ESPN cameraman knew where we were going," she said. "He could have given me a little hint as to where."
"When our name was flashed across the screen, I didn't know what seed. I just saw it was South Carolina. A little later on someone told me we got the number one seed."
South Carolina is coming off an historic season, winning its first ever SEC Championship. South Carolina set school records for wins in a season (26 - regular season) and wins in the SEC (14), and reached the SEC Tournament semifinals for only the second time in school history.
The Gamecocks dominated the SEC coaches' awards, taking Coach of the Year (Staley), Player of the Year (Mitchell), Freshman and Sixth Woman of the Year (Alaina Coates). Mitchell and Welch were both named first team All-SEC.
This is the Gamecocks' 11th NCAA Tournament appearance. The three consecutive appearances are second-most in program history behind the four straight from 1988 to 1991. Staley has taken nine teams to the NCAA Tournament (six at Temple and three at South Carolina). The previous highest seed in program history was a three seed in 2002. South Carolina has made the Elite Eight once, in 2002, and Sweet Sixteen four times (1982, 1990, 2002, 2012). The 2012 Sweet Sixteen run was Staley's deepest as a coach, but as a player at Virginia she made the Final Four three times and lost in the 1991 championship game, and was named Most Outstanding Player for her effort. Virginia was a number one seed in 1991 and 1992.
The past two years, the Selection Show party was held in the Frank McGuire Club, overlooking the court. But with record-setting attendance this season, the events moved to the court at Colonial Life Arena.
During the pre-selection activities, fans were able to get players' autographs and mingle with the coaching staff. For kids, there was a bounce house and inflatable batting cage, and of course Cocky, who signed autographs. Staley, with the help of Cocky and the players, taught kids in attendance how to do the "wobble." Finally, Cocky and the team did the Chicken Dance with kids.
Former players sent in video clips that played on the video board above the court. The highlight was a clip from forward Ashley Bruner, who graduated last year. Bruner's clip involved a fairly elaborate dance routine.