USC adds Texas to rugged women’s basketball slate

Head coach Dawn Staley and the sixth-ranked South Carolina women's basketball team host Auburn on Thursday before traveling to No. 1 Connecticut on Monday.

File/AP

COLUMBIA — Dawn Staley has begun the journey that will take her to the Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, but the South Carolina women’s basketball coach won’t stop traveling once she gets home.

The Gamecocks on Monday added another difficult road game to their 2016-17 schedule, a Dec. 1 showdown at Texas which will be part of the SEC/Big 12 Women’s Basketball Challenge. That’s in addition to contests against Connecticut, Louisville, Ohio State and Duke, all of them away from Colonial Life Arena.

Texas last season went 31-5 and reached the Elite Eight of the NCAA Tournament, where it fell to eventual national champion UConn. The Longhorns return a pair of double-digit scorers in guards Brooke McCarty and Ariel Atkins, and also feature USC transfer Jatarie White, who will sit out the upcoming season under NCAA rules.

South Carolina has not yet revealed its non-conference slate, but the Gamecocks have appeared on schedules released by other programs. Ohio State, which reached the Sweet 16 last season and returns the nation’s third-leading scorer in guard Kelsey Mitchell, opens Nov. 14 against USC in Columbus, Ohio. The Gamecocks travel to Duke, which last season missed the NCAAs for the first time in 21 years, on Dec. 4.

USC plays a neutral-court matchup Nov. 27 in Springfield, Mass., against Louisville, which returns its top four scorers from a team that last season was ranked No. 8 in the final AP Top 25 before falling in the second round of the NCAA Tournament. And the Gamecocks will travel to four-time defending national champion Connecticut on Feb. 13.

Staley’s most immediate concern, though, is a U.S. women’s national team that hasn’t lost since the semifinals of the 1992 Olympics in Barcelona. The Gamecocks’ head coach is one of three assistants to UConn’s Geno Auriemma on an Olympic staff that opens competition in Rio with an Aug. 7 preliminary-round game against Senegal.

A winner of three gold medals as a player and assistant on a 2008 squad that also won gold, Staley’s road to Rio begins this week with four exhibition games, opening Monday in Los Angeles against a USA Select Team that includes former Gamecocks star Tiffany Mitchell. The U.S. also plays France on Wednesday in Newark, Del., Canada on Friday in Bridgeport, Conn., and Australia on Sunday in New York.

Staley and the U.S. team then travel to Houston for their final practices before departing for Brazil. The U.S. women are 58-3 all-time in the Olympics and will carry a 41-game winning streak and run of five consecutive gold medals into their opener in Rio de Janeiro.