Dawn Staley and her South Carolina Gamecocks finally have ascended to the top of the poll.
South Carolina took over as the new No. 1 in The Associated Press women’s basketball Top 25 on Monday. It’s the first time in school history that the Gamecocks reached the top spot in the poll.
“I feel really good about what our team has been able to accomplish,” Staley said. “This is not a goal that we had set, but it is a part of our journey.”
Staley is no stranger herself to being ranked No. 1. As a player, she helped Virginia reach No. 1. Staley is only the second person in women’s basketball to play and coach a top-ranked team, joining Baylor’s Kim Mulkey.
“Basketball has been extremely good to me. It’s the gift that keeps on giving,” Staley said. “I try to repay my debt to basketball, but it keeps giving more in big ways. I want to be amongst the ones that have won a national championship somewhere in their career.”
The Gamecocks received 21 first-place votes Monday, while Notre Dame had 12 and moved up to second. UConn, which held the top spot for 22 straight weeks, drops to third after losing in overtime at Stanford last Monday. Tennessee and the Cardinal rounded out the first five.
The Hall of Famer Staley has built South Carolina into one of the powers in the Southeastern Conference during her seven years at the school. Last season, the Gamecocks earned their first conference title and a top seed in the NCAA tournament.
With nearly the entire team back, plus some star freshmen, South Carolina has loftier goals in mind. South Carolina headed to the Bahamas to play in the Junkanoo Jam over Thanksgiving where it will face Wisconsin in its first game as No. 1 on Thursday.
“We will see if being away from home cuts down on distractions of being ranked No. 1,” Staley said of the trip. “This week was already going to be a test since we have a big group of young players who haven’t played a Division I basketball game on the road.”
Texas made one of the biggest leaps, moving up four spots to No. 6 after knocking off Stanford and UCLA this past week. Texas A&M, Duke, Kentucky and Maryland finished off the top 10. The Wildcats moved up four places after beating then-No. 8 Baylor last Monday. The Lady Bears dropped to 13th.
No. 25 Mississippi State entered the poll for the first time since Nov. 23, 2009, after beating West Virginia and winning the preseason WNIT. Gonzaga fell out.