There’s a time for camaraderie and a time for competition.
This is the latter.
“I still love her, but I love to beat her as well,” South Carolina coach Dawn Staley said Wednesday. “I think everybody knows it’s a rival game, it’s a game we all mark on our calendars to get the win and get the bragging rights for the state.”
Clemson coach Audra Smith is Staley’s former Virginia teammate (and briefly roommate) that contributed to the greatest stretch in program history. Smith described the pair’s relationship as sisterly, and she’s also fond of USC analyst Melanie Balcomb.
Never miss a local story.
Staley has never been hesitant to give advice on program-building if Smith has asked and has chimed in with support when things haven’t gone well with the Tigers. It’s been a tough road at Clemson, trying to rebuild a team that hasn’t been good in a while and seeing star players transfer just when there’s reason to begin hoping, but Smith has remained upbeat.
One day a year, Smith and Staley are enemies, because the rivalry trumps all.
“She’s my arch-nemesis but she’s still my sister, my teammate,” Smith said.
The Gamecocks and Tigers tussle again on Thursday. USC’s seeking to notch its seventh consecutive rivalry win and keep sharpening for a showdown with No. 9 UCLA on Sunday. Clemson’s trying to rebound from its first loss of the season.
The Tigers were having a fine season but collapsed against Oregon in their last game. They started 8-0 after only winning four games all of last season, early wins hoping to boost confidence heading into the crucible of the ACC.
USC returned from its first loss of the season to blitz Minnesota but is still trying to tune up its defense. After winning six in a row against the Tigers – with the closest margin 14 points – and being one of the country’s elite teams, the Gamecocks are expected to roll.
“We talk a few times throughout the season,” Staley said. “I texted when they were undefeated and doing well, so we keep in touch.”
“It’s a good rivalry. It’s competitive,” Smith said. “She’s done such a phenomenal job since she’s been there of building that program, getting to the point of playing to a national championship, to now there are kids that are like, ‘Ok, I want to do that too. I want to help a program build like that as well.’
“They’ve had their championships. We want to be in a program where we can build it and say, ‘Hey, we started this. We started the progression of Clemson women’s basketball.’ ”
Matt Connolly contributed to this story.
Follow on Twitter at @DCTheState
Clemson (8-1) at No. 6 USC (7-1)
When: 7 p.m. Thursday
Where: Colonial Life Arena, Columbia
TV: SEC Network