Gamecocks-UConn a go

dcloninger@thestate.comMay 13, 2014 

NCAA N Carolina S Carolina Basketball

South Carolina forward Aleighsa Welch (24) and center Alaina Coates (41) react after an offensive foul was called on their team during the second half of a regional semifinal against North Carolina at the NCAA women's college basketball tournament in Stanford, Calif., Sunday, March 30, 2014. North Carolina won 65-58.

MARCIO JOSE SANCHEZ — AP

It’s been known for some time, but it got another inch closer to finalization last week.

Talking on a teleconference about adding South Carolina’s Dawn Staley to his coaching staff for the U.S. National Team, UConn coach Geno Auriemma again confirmed that his nine-time national champion will play the upstart Gamecocks in a home-and-home series beginning next season.

A date hasn’t been released, but the made-for-TV matchup will take place.

“I don’t know that we have a firm date, but I know that we have a tentative date,” Auriemma said. “I think we have it sometime in February. I think it’s a Monday, on ESPN.”

The February scheduling is a bit odd, but it helps guarantee that two of the best teams in the country will appear in a major network broadcast. A typical nonconference game in November or December would battle football for viewership.

In February, USC will be in the midst of the SEC season, which normally is not the time to schedule a nonconference game – especially one on the road against the most prominent program in the nation.

But the Gamecocks, once the SEC schedule is released, are expected to have two bye weeks, as they traditionally have had.

One of those bye dates should come on a Sunday, meaning they would play an SEC opponent on a Thursday, then be free to go to Connecticut the following Monday before preparing for another SEC game the following Thursday. The two teams must find out their conference schedules before they can officially announce the date.

“We would love to beef up our schedule and play some teams that we feel could put us in the best possible position to win a national championship,” Staley said a few weeks ago. “We will certainly play anybody anywhere.”

UConn doubtless will open the season No. 1 after its second straight national title and an undefeated season. But the Gamecocks will be hovering right beneath the Huskies in the preseason poll after winning 29 games, an SEC title, advancing to the Sweet 16, signing the country’s No. 2 recruiting class (including prep National Player of the Year A’ja Wilson, who also was recruited by UConn) and returning every significant player.

“A lot of these games are really ESPN-driven,” Auriemma said. “This is a concept that we have in mind, because we’re both going to be top-5. It’s a great game to play later on in the season, when people start to think about postseason play.”

The Huskies will visit Columbia in a return game during the 2015-16 season. USC is 0-2 lifetime against UConn, playing a home-and-home in 2007 and 2008, the last year of coach Susan Walvius’ tenure and the first year of Staley’s. The Huskies won 97-39 and 77-48.

As for other games, Staley is finding a repeat of last year in it being difficult to lure a quality opponents to Columbia. Confirmed games are return home-and-home matches with Southern Cal and San Diego State, plus the annual rivalry match with Clemson.

“For us, coach (Nikki) McCray is over our scheduling,” Staley said. “She’s finding it real hard to find it for us to schedule games, for one reason or another.”

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