Two days after the No. 1 South Carolina Gamecocks escaped a persistent now-No. 4 UConn team with an 81-77 win, Dawn Staley responded to some comments made by Geno Auriemma regarding the physicality of the game. On her radio call-in show, the South Carolina head coach said that when her team is succeeding, they are "called something other than players that are locked in."
"We've been called so many things and I'm sick of it," Staley said. "I'm sick of it because I coach some of the best human beings the game has ever had."
"They play the right way and approach it the right way whether they win or lose. We don't denounce anybody's play. They are always uplifting the game of women's basketball, and when we were getting our heads beat in by UConn for all those years, I said nothing."
Staley was referring to Auriemma's postgame press conference after her team's win in a high intensity rematch of last season's national championship game.
A poor second quarter hurt the Huskies, but they were just six points behind with four minutes remaining in the game. UConn's Lou Lopez Sénéchal was being defended by Zia Cooke, and Auriemma did not like what he saw. This led to a moment of frustration in which he slammed a water bottle on the court, earning him a technical. When talking about it after the game, he said it was a "dumb mistake" and a "bad decision" on his part. However, he communicated his frustration with the officials.
"The technical was stupid. I didn't say anything for a long, long, long time," he said. "If you want to bring Lou in and see the bruises on her body, it is just appalling what teams do to her now. It's not basketball anymore. I don't know what it is but it's not basketball. That was the problem, more for Lou. She responded amazingly, right? I don't like to see a kid get manhandled like that right in front of the officials."
UConn’s Geno Auriemma on what led to him spiking a water bottle into the court and picking up a technical foul. Suspension? pic.twitter.com/EWiMtB9TqA— Patrick Eaton-Robb (@peatonrobb) February 5, 2023
He said his team didn't lose because of officiating, they lost because they didn't move around enough. He explained that the moment of frustration wasn't just one particular play, he just didn't feel like he could "keep quiet any longer."
"Coach is ready to be there for any player, and obviously he felt bad and apologized for it," Lopez Sénéchal said. "Other things also defined in the game so it's not just that.. But obviously we need a coach that sticks up for the players and all the players to stick up for each other."
It's not the first time Auriemma has complained about officiating, as he also talked about the referees during halftime against Tennessee late January. He is also hardly the first coach to complain about officiating or the physicality of the game. In 2021, Stanford's Tara VanDerveer and then-Texas associate head coach Dionnah Jackson-Durrett had a similar disagreement after VanDerveer made a comment about how "people don't want to see football or rugby."
Even though comments about physicality are nothing new, Staley felt the need to defend her players, which South Carolina star Aliyah Boston appreciated.
"And this is why I'm so happy to be coached by coach Staley no matter what she has our backs!" Boston wrote on Twitter.
Next up, UConn is in Milwaukee to take on the Marquette Golden Eagles on Wednesday evening. South Carolina is heading to Alabama for a matchup against Auburn on Thursday.