The most heated rivalry in SEC sports does not involve Alabama, or Auburn, or Tennessee.
It is the rivalry between the South Carolina and Missouri women’s basketball teams, the two preeminent teams in that conference.
On Sunday, No. 9 South Carolina beat No. 11 Missouri on the Gamecocks’ home floor in a game that was intense and emotional and, according to Missouri athletic director Jim Sterk, crossed the lines of what should be acceptable at a sporting event.
And he blamed South Carolina head coach Dawn Staley, one of the most important figures in women’s basketball today, for instigating it.
It wasn’t a great atmosphere,” Sterk, who was sitting courtside, said of the game during an interview with a local radio outlet in Missouri. “It was really kind of unhealthy, if you will. We had players spit on, and called the N-word, and things like that. 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.”
Sterk was not the only one to make these claims.
“I was really disappointed with some things that transpired,” said Robin Pingeton, Missouri’s head women’s basketball coach and, coincidentally, the aunt of Michael Porter Jr. and Jontay Porter. “There’s no place in our game for that. Fans have got to be better all around. Our side. Their side. Fans have got to be better.”
“There were some things that were really unfortunate that transpired, Not only verbally, but some other things that you alluded to.”
South Carolina athletic director Ray Tanner released a statement saying that protecting the players, fans and coaches is of “the utmost importance” during their home games.
“Upon hearing the accusations regarding our crowd’s behavior towards the Missouri team, the athletics department conducted a review of our operations from the game, including interviews with staff and security personnel,” he said. “In this review, we received no confirmation of the alleged behavior directed at the visiting team by fans at the game.”
So how did this all come about?
It started on January 7th, when these two teams played in Missouri and South Carolina had complaints about the way Missouri played.
“I think there were some things out there that weren’t basketball, that weren’t basketball plays,” Staley said on Friday, before the game. “And I get that you want to take key people out of the game. We want to do that. If we get the opportunity to get [Missouri star] Sophie [Cunningham] out of the game, yes, we’re going to try to do that, but within the confines of the rules of the game.”
She was referencing plays like these:
Staley was eventually ejected from that game after receiving two technical fouls.
Then on Sunday, late in the first half, there was a scuffle that resulted in two players from Missouri being ejected for leaving the bench, as well as a player on each team being assessed a technical foul:
Am I the only one that’s here for a rubber match in the SEC tournament title game?