Dawn Staley confident UConn is 'going to reload' after loss

Why the future remains bright for UConn women (1:31)

Nikki Fargas says that despite their loss in the Elite Eight, the Huskies will be a force to be reckoned with next year with the return of star guard Paige Bueckers. (1:31)

GREENVILLE, S.C. -- South Carolina coach Dawn Staley does not think anyone should view UConn's failure to advance to the Final Four for the first time since 2007 as a harbinger of things to come.

During her news conference before her team's Elite Eight matchup against Maryland on Sunday, Staley said the only real significance to UConn's shocking 73-61 loss to Ohio State in the Sweet 16 in Seattle on Saturday is that "the streak is over."

"UConn is going to continue to be UConn," Staley said. "They're going to reload. If you see their roster that's coming in and who they're bringing back next year, they'll reload. They'll start a new streak.

"I don't think any of us that's outside of UConn, we're not panicking. They're going to be who they are. They're going to always -- you get a chance to beat UConn, it's always going to be a big win for you and your program."

South Carolina defeated UConn 64-49 in the national championship game a year ago to win its second title in six years. Earlier this year, the Gamecocks won the rematch 81-77 in Hartford, Connecticut, and are now sitting at 35-0, trying to chase some history of their own in their quest for a second straight title and undefeated season.

The Gamecocks are the favorites to become the 10th team to finish a season undefeated in NCAA history, but it would mark the first time in program history. Four schools have finished a season undefeated -- a whopping six by UConn alone.

But even before its Sweet 16 loss, there were some questions about whether the UConn dynasty had begun to show cracks. UConn has won 11 national championships, but its most recent title was in 2016. This was the earliest UConn has been eliminated from the NCAA tournament since 2005.

Staley, for one, is not convinced that this means UConn has fallen back. Especially since the Huskies dealt with injuries throughout the course of this season, including losing All-American Paige Bueckers to an ACL injury.

"It's not over," Staley said. "It's a scary thing because they lost a lot more games than they normally lose. But they were hampered by injuries, and once they get healthy, once they get Paige back, once this year's recruiting class is able to play and who they'll bring in, it's back to the drawing board."

Though UConn was not a No. 1 seed in this tournament, its loss has opened up the door for a new team to make it to the Final Four. Ohio State moves on to play Virginia Tech in the Elite Eight on Monday. Virginia Tech has never made it to the Final Four, while Ohio State has made the Final Four once (in 1993). Without the Huskies, Staley was asked whether there will be an opportunity to grow the women's college basketball audience with new teams in the mix.

"When you lose UConn, you lose part of a section of the country that enjoys watching UConn, their dominance," Staley said. "But the game has grown. Not just this year and not just because UConn is no longer in the tournament. We are in demand.

"There are so many great narratives, so many great players, so many great coaches, so many great storylines that we're able to hold our own even if UConn is not a part of [it]. They'll still be a part of it. Once this advances, we're going to have a UConn story. They're not here; where are they? It's just going to be a part of the storyline of our game.

"Rightfully so, because they've been dominant for decades. And we need to do a better job not with just UConn. All the teams that have been dominant, we need to talk about them as part of our women's basketball history. This is a new history that we're venturing into because there are so many great players and parity that we need to start documenting."

Maryland coach Brenda Frese, in her 21st season with the Terrapins, believes the parity that now exists in women's college basketball is coming through in upsets like that one.

"It's incredible what UConn has been able to do and the standard of excellence," Frese said. "It is really hard to be that consistent for so long. I think you're also seeing in the men's game as well as the women's game, which is about 25 years behind the men, parity, and the portal and COVID and just the game has evolved.

"I think it's awesome that you can't predict what's going to happen in the future."

Frese also took a moment to celebrate an accomplishment for the Big Ten, which has three teams in the Elite Eight.

"For the Big Ten, we've lived this all season long," she said. "It's awesome to see it unfold right now on the national stage because we felt like as a conference that these teams were elite all year. And so to be able to kind of see it unfold and play out right now is what we've faced all season. But I know we're nowhere close to being done."

ESPN's M.A. Voepel contributed to this report.