USC women ranked No. 2 in preseason poll

Head coach Dawn Staley and South Carolina, which reached its first Final Four last season, are ranked No. 2 in this year’s preseason women’s basketball AP poll.

The South Carolina women’s basketball team opens the 2015-16 season in a familiar spot — ranked No. 2 nationally, and looking up at Connecticut.

The Gamecocks were ranked second in the preseason AP Top 25 released Tuesday, with the 10-time national champion Huskies earning the top spot for the 11th time. South Carolina was also preseason No. 2 in last year’s poll, and spent much of the season at that ranking but for six weeks where USC stood at No. 1 for the first time in school history.

USC’s run at the top ended after a loss at Connecticut. South Carolina is coming off the most successful season in the program’s history, a 34-3 campaign in which the Gamecocks were a top regional seed in the NCAA Tournament and advanced to their first Final Four before dropping a one-point game to Notre Dame in the national semifinals.

South Carolina finished last year ranked No. 3. The Gamecocks received 758 votes in the poll, 44 more than third-ranked Notre Dame. Connecticut was a unanimous No. 1, claiming all 32 first-place votes. Tennessee, which shared the SEC title with USC last season and adds former North Carolina star Diamond DeShields to its roster, was ranked No. 4, while Baylor rounded out the top five.

The SEC placed five teams in the preseason poll, with No. 11 Mississippi State, No. 13 Texas A&M and No. 18 Kentucky joining the Gamecocks and Volunteers.

The Gamecocks return three starters from last year’s Final Four squad, including two-time SEC Player of the Year Tiffany Mitchell. USC’s top three scorers and top three rebounders are all back. USC opens the season Nov. 13 with a 7 p.m. home game against Ohio State, which was ranked No. 6 in the preseason poll.

Eight USC opponents are ranked in the preseason poll, including No. 14 Duke, which South Carolina hosts on Dec. 6, and No. 15 Arizona State, which the Gamecocks play in an event in Hawaii. No. 1 Connecticut visits Colonial Life Arena on Feb. 11.

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