Why Dawn Staley isn’t ready to call South Carolina basketball a dynasty after 8th SEC title

South Carolina women’s basketball coach Dawn Staley would be OK if she got used to the feeling of winning an SEC regular-season title.

After all, at South Carolina, winning titles has become expected.

“If there’s a championship out there, we want to win,” she said. “If there’s a game out there, we want to win. It’s great, it really is great, that this team has put us in this position this early.”

The Gamecocks (26-0, 13-0 SEC) locked up a share of their eighth SEC regular-season championship after beating Alabama 72-44 on Thursday. With three games remaining and holding the tiebreaker over LSU, South Carolina also clinched the No. 1 seed for the SEC Tournament.

Dawn Staley's standards demand South Carolina women's basketball do more  than just win - Yahoo Sports

Staley herself also has gotten pretty used to winning. The victory over the Crimson Tide (20-8, 7-6) was the 600th win of her career. Her team, which is inexperienced even among the seniors, has had to grow up a lot.

“You really can’t take our foot off the gas with them,” Staley said. “They’re so young, they’re so free, and sometimes free is wrong.”

For those following, the Gamecocks’ conference title isn’t a surprise. Since beating LSU on Jan. 25, they have been the clear favorite and front-runner to win the SEC.

It’s also the standard for South Carolina under Staley. A program without an SEC title when she took over as coach in 2008, it has become the team to beat. It has won eight regular-season SEC titles since, four more than Tennessee. Mississippi State has two; no one else has more than one.

An SEC dynasty, though? Staley isn’t quite ready to go that far.

“We’ve been pretty successful,” she said. “Tennessee had a dynasty. I don’t know where we measure up to them. Unless we are doing things they haven’t done consistently, you can’t really call it a dynasty.”

For the players, the feeling of Thursday’s trophy ceremony felt different. The roster turnover was near total from last season. Even for players like junior guard Bree Hall, who won her third conference title, the feeling surrounding this one — and this team — isn’t the same.

Why Dawn Staley doesn't yet call South Carolina basketball a dynasty

“It’s a little different this time just knowing that I am more of a factor to it,” Hall said. “Previous years, I wasn’t really that main factor. It didn’t really feel like, ‘I’m really getting this.’ Now to go out there and start and being a factor to the team, it helps a lot.”

Hall has started all 26 games this season after never having started in her collegiate career. Staley said Hall didn’t know the responsibilities of a starter when team practices began.

Because of their youth, Staley said South Carolina plays freely, which she worries about. It’s the style of play they had when they showed up to practice in June and caused Staley to contemplate early retirement.

That team from June hasn’t showed up in a game, and Staley said it continues to play above that level. The main factor has been discipline.

“As coaches, you get to a point where you’re not going to allow them to lower the standard of our program,” she said. “It was low in June. It wasn’t where I wanted it to be, but it couldn’t because they weren’t capable of holding up the standard. Their standards weren’t that high where they come from.”

After claiming another banner Thursday, the Gamecocks proved their standards are now as high as the program expects. They’ve figured out how good they are.

“You expect the unexpected — you don’t know,” sophomore forward Ashlyn Watkins said. “We didn’t expect to be this good, but once we saw we were this good, we never looked back.”

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