Missouri, No. 15 South Carolina not focusing on past issues
COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — Missouri coach Robin Pingeton and South Carolina coach Dawn Staley want the focus of Monday night’s matchup solely on the basketball court.
That seems impossible given the fiery, racially charged aftermath the last time the women’s basketball programs met.
“I don’t foresee anything happening like happened last year” Staley said Sunday.
Few could’ve saw it coming — allegations of racial slurs, a lawsuit, verbal jabs, all after a women’s basketball game.
Following South Carolina’s 64-54 home win last January, a Missouri player told Pingeton that Gamecocks’ fans spat on the team. Missouri athletic director Jim Sterk went further, saying fans used racial slurs and that Staley promoted an “unhealthy” atmosphere.
Staley sued Sterk for defamation, the parties settling in Staley’s favor for $50,000.
Though it’s unlikely anyone would describe Staley and Sterk as friends, the coach said she has moved on.
“That’s actually in the back of my mind. I don’t even think about that anymore,” Staley said. “I’m a person who’s mastered compartmentalizing.”
Sterk, who publicly apologized to Staley after the settlement, said in an email to The Associated Press he also has moved on and “to revisit it would not be fair to the coaches and student-athletes who will be playing on Monday night.”
Staley and Pingeton have talked at Southeastern Conference gatherings about improving the rivalry. Staley said they exchanged several phone messages since July about having their teams meet as a goodwill gesture before the game. She said Sunday that appeared unlikely because nothing had been nailed down yet with the game so close.
The issues began a year ago with a brief on-court scuffle as Missouri’s Kayla Michaels and South Carolina’s Alexis Jennings locked up scrambling for the ball and went down hard. The play looked to involve a little more than hard competition between teams battling for the top of the SEC standings.
What followed extended beyond the basketball court as the schools squared off in court.
Sterk said in a radio interview days after the game that Missouri had players “spit on and called the ‘N-word,’ and things like that. I mean it was not a good environment and unfortunately I think, Coach Staley promoted that kind of atmosphere, and it’s unfortunate that she felt she had to do that.”
Staley answered that Sterk’s charges were “serious and false” and sued him for defamation less than a month later.
The SEC fined Sterk $25,000 for his comments and ordered South Carolina to review its methods for game management and keeping visiting teams safe.
South Carolina athletic director Ray Tanner said he found no evidence of Sterk’s allegations, but has worked to ensure opponents feel safe in the building. Tanner would not elaborate on changes to game-day procedures. Tanner said in a statement his school’s gameday atmosphere for women’s basketball is the best in the country and “will work to carry out its game operations play for all home games, no matter the opponent.”
Sterk and Tanner have talked and worked on SEC issues together since the lawsuit.
Staley said Sunday she’s never spoken to Sterk, even after his public apology.
She wants her players locked in on Missouri (15-4), which is tied with the 15th-ranked Gamecocks (12-5) for second in the SEC at 4-1.
“We’re going to treat it like a regular game,” Staley said. “When you add all the extra stuff to it, you’re adding unnecessary stuff. We’re aware of Missouri and who they are.”