COLUMBIA — There is no time for the South Carolina women’s basketball team to dwell on its first loss of the season — not that head coach Dawn Staley would allow it, anyway.
“One thing about coach Staley, she’s not going to let us get too high with the highs or too low with the lows,” guard Khadijah Sessions said. “She makes sure we maintain. We’ve got to regroup. Just like we regroup from wins, we’ve got to regroup from losses and come back and continue to work hard. We’re not going to let that one game define us.”
That game was Monday’s 87-62 loss at Connecticut, which next week will almost certainly reassume the top ranking the Gamecocks have held for the past dozen weeks. But for the time being, USC is still No. 1, and still unbeaten in SEC play, and still hoping to maintain that latter mark against a dangerous LSU team when it returns to action Thursday at 7 p.m. at Colonial Life Arena.
The 25-point loss to the second-ranked Huskies was USC’s worst in nearly four years, and it snapped the longest winning streak in the program’s history. But there certainly didn’t appear to be any Connecticut hangover Wednesday, when the Gamecocks (22-1, 10-0 SEC) finished practice in their typical, lively style.
“I think playing UConn at UConn and not having the performance we wanted can send you in one of two ways,” Staley said. “It can send you into a downward spiral, or it gives you hope for what you need to work on. I think our players are really into getting better, and that’s where you want them.”
South Carolina hung with the nine-time national champions in the opening minutes, and then made a run to start the second half. Against a team that shot 55 percent and placed four starters in double-figures, though, it wasn’t nearly enough. Reviewing the game tape reinforced just how well Connecticut played, Staley said — but also gave her a few ideas.
“I saw some things where we could capitalize on things that they were doing to put them back on their heels a little bit,” Staley said. “You’ve got to continue to score against a team like UConn. I just didn’t think we, over the course of 40 minutes, put our kids in a good position to score. That’s something that our coaching staff has to do a better job at.”
The more immediate focus is LSU (14-9, 8-3), which is a very different team than the one the Gamecocks beat 75-51 in Baton Rouge on Jan. 4. The Tigers’ leading scorer, guard Danielle Ballard, was suspended for that game due to a violation of team rules. Her return has ignited a surge that’s seen LSU win four straight, knock off ranked teams in back-to-back games for the first time in seven years, and climb to third in the SEC standings behind unbeaten USC and Tennessee.
Ballard scored 24 in an upset of then-No. 15 Mississippi State, and 25 in an upset of then-No. 10 Kentucky. She returned to action right after the first South Carolina game, and LSU has won seven of nine since.
“They found a little spark of energy when she came back,” Sessions said.
And South Carolina seems to have left the Connecticut loss behind, with the opportunity for another SEC title, a Final Four run, and just maybe another meeting with the Huskies still ahead of them.
“We’re in a good place. We’re in a really good place,” Staley said. “Our team is always focused on the task at hand, and the task at hand right now is LSU.”