COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) No. 3 South Carolina has already taken much of the suspense out of its NCAA seeding. The joy for the Southeastern Conference champs and expected No. 1 seed, though, will be just as great as a year ago when few knew if a top seed was on the horizon.
South Carolina forward Alaina Coates said Friday she and her teammates will be just as pumped this year despite taking care of business. Last year the Gamecocks were wondering if losing early in the SEC Tournament might have cost them a top seeding.
It didn't. The Gamecocks leaped from the sideline chairs when their name appeared atop the Stanford Regional.
''Last was just a surprise,'' Coates said. ''It was very crazy, especially my first year being here and we're a number one seed.''
South Carolina (30-2) took much of the Monday night drama out of the bracket for Gamecocks fans when it topped No. 6 Tennessee for the second time in two weeks to win the SEC Tournament title.
That's given the Gamecocks a confidence that was not evident a year ago
Soon after the Gamecocks were beaten by North Carolina in the Sweet 16 last year, coach Dawn Staley and her players declared their goal this year was to win the national championship. Now, they get the chance to embark on the final part of the journey.
South Carolina added its second straight SEC regular-season crown to its resume last month and followed that with its first-ever tournament title.
Gamecocks leading scorer Tiffany Mitchell said the team is primed to finish off the trek starting with what region they'll play in should they win their first two games at Colonial Life Arena.
''We just have to come in playing with the same mindset, the same effort that we've had all season,'' said Mitchell, who picked up her second consecutive SEC player of the year award.
And the Gamecocks aren't too concerned about where they'll start their title pursuit.
ESPN analyst Charlie Creme said this week he has gone back and forth with locations for South Carolina. While the Greensboro Regional would make more sense - and give the Gamecocks the chance to easily bus up fans - geographically, placing them in Oklahoma City and Notre Dame in Greensboro adheres to more of the selectors stated guidelines for a balanced tournament, Creme said.
Mitchell said she and her teammates are just eager to get back on the court.
''We've done a great job being true to ourselves,'' Mitchell said. ''Doing anything different would I think be in our best interest.''