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Post & Courier (Charleston, SC)
COLUMBIA — She said she was only going to make one comment, but Dawn Staley couldn't help herself. She couldn't hold back while her team, her methods and her reputation were being questioned.
"They're going to be handled. They're going to be handled right here," Staley said Wednesday, referring to comments made a day earlier by Missouri athletics director Jim Sterk. "They're not going to be handled in a manner that they were dealt. They're going to be handled in the right manner."
Sterk accused Staley of promoting an unhealthy fan atmosphere and claimed USC fans spit on and directed racial slurs at Missouri basketball players after the Gamecocks' 64-54 victory Sunday at Colonial Life Arena.
"It wasn't a great atmosphere. It was really kind of unhealthy, if you will. We had players spit on, and called the N-word, and things like that," Sterk said on KTGR radio in Missouri. "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."
Staley flatly denied that anything of the sort took place, and said she stands behind USC fans.
"The accusations are serious and false," Staley said. "And they will be handled in a manner reflective of those facts."
South Carolina AD Ray Tanner said the university conducted a full investigation and found no proof that Sterk's allegations were true.
Missouri coach Robin Pingeton was asked Tuesday if she was aware of USC fans spitting on the Tigers as they left the floor, as claimed by former Missouri player Sierra Michaelis, who attended the game.
Pingeton didn't confirm or deny it, saying she was disappointed in some of the fans' actions and that it needed to be cleaned up. No Missouri players have claimed they were spit on or called names.
Tanner said he had spoken with Sterk since the radio interview and while he wouldn't reveal what the two spoke about, he was hopeful the situation would be settled soon.
"I was very confused that coach Staley was addressed from Jim Sterk's comments. I still don't quite understand exactly what the intent was," Tanner said. "I'm hoping that there's a resolution coming in some form or fashion. I do believe a retraction is necessary from Jim Sterk's comments."
A message left for Sterk was not returned, nor were messages to the university's news bureau inquiring if the school supported Sterk's statements.
Tanner has spoken to SEC Commissioner Greg Sankey and others at the league office. "This is not an issue that anybody is excited about dealing with, that comes to attention in women's basketball," he said. "That's where it is. I can't share more than that with you, but it's being addressed."
The incident has made a heated rivalry nastier, and there's the possibility the two teams could again meet in the SEC or NCAA tournaments.
"I'm hoping it's a situation that is short-lived. It's gone on way too long," Tanner said. "We have a big game (Thursday) against UConn and we need to move forward."
Sterk's comments continued to weigh on Tanner as the press conference ended.
"Again, I don't quite understand what that was meant to say," Tanner said. "I'm extremely proud of what coach Staley has meant to this program, and she's meant just as much off the floor, as well as her young women that play. To know coach Staley and to have a comment that many of you read about, was extremely confusing."
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