Do not despair, Gamecocks fans … South Carolina will be okay

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In today’s sporting culture which is very reliant on the hot take, it can be very easy to overreact if one team that is expected to win every game it plays all of a sudden has a night where it got in the loss column instead of the win column.

After all, look at the Los Angeles Lakers with LeBron James and Russell Westbrook. A few losses and the media starts ballyhooing about if trades will be made or if the King, who just turned 37 yesterday, will start contemplating retirement – even though that may not happen anytime soon.

Then there is the curious case of the South Carolina Gamecocks – already the people’s champions among women’s basketball aficionados. Dawn Staley’s Gamecocks, the No. 1 ranked team in the country has faced stiff tests this season by way of teams such as UConn, Stanford and Maryland, but South Carolina prevailed in all three games to maintain its No. 1 standing and status as the team to beat in NCAA women’s hoops.

But – as the old saying goes, every dog has his day. Or in this case … Tiger.

It was a battle of the Columbia’s on New Year’s Eve Eve when the No. 1 ranked Gamecocks of Columbia, South Carolina traveled to Columbia, Missouri to take on the unranked Tigers. It was a hard-fought contest with an electric atmosphere inside Mizzou Arena.

Eventually, the game went to overtime … and as the old saying goes …

Mizzou had the ball on the final possession of the game in overtime – and with one tenth of a second remaining, Lauren Hansen delivered a Mizzou moment that would be worthy of a One Shining Moment highlight reel.

It may not have been March, but there was madness inside at Mizzou.

It was as simple as this – even the best of teams have off nights and the Gamecocks simply had themselves an off night on the road the day prior to New Year’s Eve. As much as we hail the all-time greats of the WNBA such as Sheryl Swoopes, Cynthia Cooper, Swin Cash, Diana Taurasi and Maya Moore – even they had off nights.

Remember earlier in the season when UConn lost Paige Bueckers to injury? Everyone was rightfully getting all over Geno Auriemma’s about how hard it is to take her out of games, but that he does not like how the Huskies look without Bueckers. When they started struggling, everyone was burying Auriemma (rightfully for being one of the sport’s more shady figures) even though the sensible take was that UConn would be just fine because they have enough top-tier talent to still compete with the nation’s best.

The same is true for South Carolina. Any Gamecocks fans looking to jump in the Congaree River just outside the UofSC campus after the loss to Mizzou needs to go back and look at the tape from South Carolina’s previous tough victories over UConn, Maryland and Stanford.

They were all come-from-behind triumphs. One thing about Dawn Staley’s Gamecocks – no lead is safe against Aliyah Boston, Zia Cooke, Destanni Henderson, Victoria Saxton, Laeticia Amihere and the rest of that bunch. A team thinks it has a win over South Carolina in the bag with a double-digit lead at the half? Watch that double-digit lead evaporate in the blink of an eye.

South Carolina will shake this loss and still go on to have another stellar season. They will likely win the SEC tournament at Bridgestone Arena in Nashville and even if they lose in the SEC championship game, the Gamecocks will still be one of the four No. 1 seeds when it time for March Madness. South Carolina will also, more than likely, reach the Final Four – and this is a hungry Gamecocks team still smarting from the memories of being within point-blank range of reaching the national title game last season.

If anything, it is a wake-up call to South Carolina that they, like any team in the country, can be beat on any given night. After all, the No. 1 team in the country is going to get their best from whoever they face as was the case with Mizzou, not to mention in earlier games with UConn, Stanford and Maryland. As the big bad wolf in college basketball right now, the Gamecocks know that winning a championship is not easy and that everyone will look to knock them off the top of the food chain.

But as was the case with the A’ja Wilson-led Gamecocks when they brought a national title to Columbia, this South Carolina team is also uber-talented with future WNBA prospects left and right – including Henderson who is projected to be a first-overall pick in this upcoming season’s draft (our friends at Lines.com has her at No. 9 to the Seattle Storm) and Amihere who already plays for the Canadian national team.

The correct theory when licking one’s wounds after losses like this is to understand that if a team is going to take its lumps, it is better to take those lumps during the season than during March Madness where it is win or go home. Staley, her coaching staff and her players can assess where they went wrong against Mizzou and make sure that does not repeat itself when the Gamecocks are one of the four tourney No. 1 seeds.

South Carolina fans do not need to press the panic button – because there is no panic button that ought to be found within a 100-mile radius of Colonial Life Arena. The Gamecocks will be fine and there is still a great chance that by the end of this season, we are calling Dawn Staley a two-time national championship-winning coach.

The only question that remains? Is she willing to get a mayo bath the way the Gamecocks’ football coach recently did?

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