After the celebration of getting to the Sweet 16, the University at Buffalo women's basketball team has to prepare to play in the Sweet 16. And the Albany Regional is as tough as they come, including defending national champion South Carolina and the nearly indestructible UConn machine.
The Bulls face South Carolina at 11:30 a.m. Saturday. The game in Times Union Center is scheduled to be on ESPN.
The Gamecocks are a No. 2 seed, advancing with wins over North Carolina A&T (63-52) and Virginia (66-56). Here are five things to know about South Carolina:
1. They have A'ja Wilson. The senior forward has already been named National Player of the Year by two outlets (espnW and USA Today) and is expected to gather more hardware en route to being a top pick in the WNBA draft. She had a combined 44 points, 27 rebounds, five assists, six steals, and eight blocked shots in the Gamecocks' first two NCAA Tournament games. She is averaging 22.6 points and 11.8 rebounds a game and holds the South Carolina program record for career blocked shots (352) and points (2,298).
Oh, and the woman can dunk. Along with the stats and impressive play in the low post, Wilson has thrown down some dunks this season, including during warm-ups at Mississippi State on Feb. 5
2. Wilson battled vertigo. A'ja Wilson missed the last regular season game against Tennessee while suffering from vertigo. She returned to play in the SEC Tournament, coming off the bench for all three games en route to the Gamecocks fourth-straight conference championship.
"I've gotten vertigo in the past but it was always in the offseason so I had a lot of time to rebound but this time was very different," Wilson said after the Gamecocks' win over Tennessee in the SEC tourney. "I really could not gather things and it was a tough space for me because I like being in control and I wasn't in control of that situation. My vertigo is something very serious. It's something you kinda overlook -- oh how is this happening in my ears? But it's very, very serious. I'm glad the medical staff was able to take care of me."
Of course even coming off the bench, Wilson was named the MVP of the SEC Tournament. She returned to the starting lineup for the NCAA Tournament.
3. South Carolina has grown its fan base. Hosting the first and second rounds, the program didn't just hope for good marketing to get people out to the games. Coach Dawn Staley and players got on the phone and called season ticket-holders. That brought 11,085 to their game on Friday against North Carolina A&T. They got back on the phones for their second-round game. Scheduled to start at 9 p.m., Staley urged fans to make it a pajama party and offered to write an excuse slip for fans who came to the game but overslept for work or school the next day.
The result? 10,307 for their 66-56 win over Virgina on Sunday.
"It goes back to the old saying, it's all about how you make people feel that's going to be remembered the most," Staley said. "Year in, year out, we make our fans – we call them 'fams' – we make them feel like a part of our program because they are. We ask them questions about what they like and don't like. We involve them with everything we're doing. Is it time consuming? Absolutely it is, but when you want over 10,000 to see you play at 9 p.m. on a Sunday, that's why we do what we do."
Those attendance figures helped drive up the overall attendance at the first two rounds of the NCAA Tournament. An average of 5,067 took in the first 48 games of the tournament, the highest two-round average in a decade.
4. Staley started in the A-10. For those who don't quite remember their women's basketball history, Dawn Staley started her collegiate head coaching career at Temple in 2000 when the Owls were still a part of the Atlantic 10. So Staley has some familiarity with Big 4 basketball, and plenty of success. She went 13-1 against St. Bonaventure when she was at Temple, with the only loss coming Jan. 20, 2002, when the Bonnies beat the Owls, 83-76, in the Reilly Center.
5. Don't mess with their reputation. Last month, Staley filed a lawsuit against Missouri athletic director Jim Sterk for defamation after remarks he made during a radio interview. As reported by USA Today, the lawsuit, filed in Richland County, S.C., is seeking $75,000 for damages.
Here's the story: After the Tigers lost, 64-54, at South Carolina on Jan. 28, Sterk told a Missouri radio station that his players were "spit on and called the N-word" at South Carolina's Colonial Life Arena. Sterk placed responsibility on Staley saying that she "promoted that kind of atmosphere."
An investigation by South Carolina athletic director Ray Tanner said there was no confirmation of the alleged behavior and Staley said the allegations were "serious and false." Given the opportunity to retract his statements in a later radio interview, Sterk did not.
And then the SEC got involved, fining Sterk $25,000 for his comments about Staley while calling for a review of Carolina's game management.
JUST IN: The SEC is fining Mizzou AD Jim Sterk $25K for his comments regarding Dawn Staley and calls for a review of Carolina’s game management and visiting team security protocols. Statement below from Greg Sankey and the #SEC #Gamecocks #Mizzou pic.twitter.com/8CrhPyIWVH
— Joe Cook (@JoeCookSports) February 22, 2018