Gamecock women heading back to NCAA Tournament

COLUMBIA, S.C. (WACH/AP) - South Carolina and coach Dawn Staley are heading to consecutive NCAA tournaments for the first time in a decade.

The fourth-seeded Gamecocks (23-7) will open against 13th-seeded South Dakota State (25-7) in the Norfolk regional. The game is set for Saturday afternoon in Boulder, Colo.

Players jumped out of their chairs when their destination was announced during the NCAA Tournament selection show Monday evening. The players were surrounded by hundreds of fans during a watch party at Colonial Life Arena.

South Carolina last played in back-to-back NCAAs in 2002 and 2003. They reached the round of 16 a season ago before losing to Stanford and Staley built on that run all offseason to make it back this winter.

"Last year's team it was the novelty of playing in the NCAA Tournament, playing on somebody's home court," said head coach Dawn Staley. "Now, we have that under out belts and we will definitely use it to our advantage."

South Carolina started the season 10-0 matching the best start in program history. It also won a school record 11 games in the Southeastern Conference and they did it with Staley's trademark, in-your-face defensive style.

The team has given up just 49.5 points a game, the country's fourth-best defense. Senior guard Ieasia Walker was voted the SEC's defensive player of the year and is surrounded by an impressive lineup of veteran and younger players who have NCAA Tournament experience to draw from this year.

"The people who did have the experience from last year, we have to make sure to keep everybody on, and focus on what we have ahead of us because now it's win or go home," said sophomore forward Aleighsa Welch.

South Carolina is set to make its tenth trip to the NCAA tournament and its fourth since joining the Southeastern Conference in 1991-92, The Gamecocks have a 10-9 record all-time at the tournament.

South Carolina is set to tip off against Summit League champion South Dakota State at 4:10pm Saturday.

Host and fifth-seeded Colorado will play No. 12 seed Kansas in the other game played at the site. The winners of those two games will meet on Monday, March 25.