Dawn Staley led the Gamecocks to the national title last season. (Sean Rayford/Associated Press)

South Carolina women’s basketball Coach Dawn Staley denied Wednesday accusations by Missouri Athletic Director Jim Sterk that Gamecocks fans used the n-word and spat at Tigers players during a contentious game. In addition, Sterk had singled out Staley as contributing to “that kind of atmosphere.”

“The accusations are serious and false, and they will be handled in a manner reflective of those facts,” Staley said (via The State). She added that no evidence that Missouri players were spat upon had “crossed my desk.”

Following the No. 7 Gamecocks’ 64-54 home win Sunday, which featured a scuffle and two ejections, a recent former player for the No. 15 Tigers who had traveled with the team tweeted that it was “classy to see the SC fans spitting on Mizzou after the game.”

Asked Tuesday about that accusation, Missouri Coach Robin Pingeton did not deny the claim, saying (via the St. Louis Post-Dispatch), “I was really disappointed with some things that transpired. There’s no place in our game for that. … There were certainly some things that were really unfortunate that transpired, not only verbally and some other things you alluded to.”

Sterk, who attended the game, subsequently went on Columbia, Mo., radio station KTGR and said, “We had players spit on and called the n-word and things like that,” Sterk said. “I mean, 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.”

That prompted South Carolina AD Ray Tanner to issue a statement in which he said: “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. In this review, we received no confirmation of the alleged behavior directed at the visiting team by fans at the game.”

“Our fans are great. They’re loyal, they’re passionate, they understand basketball, they understand how to act in the stands,” Staley, who led the Gamecocks to the NCAA national championship late year, said Wednesday. “And if I could uproot them and put them in every women’s basketball arena, every coach that represented that particular fan base would be tremendously proud of what they bring to the table.

“I stand by our fans, I stand by what they represent, I stand by how they cheer, I stand by every single thing that they bring to the building, because it’s appropriate and well within the game rules.”

South Carolina men’s basketball Coach Frank Martin took to Twitter to stick up for his colleague, saying he loved the kind of person Staley is and what she stands for.

Staley’s comments came as she prepared her squad for a showdown Thursday with top-ranked Connecticut. “I’m a master compartmentalist,” she said of not letting the dispute with Missouri cause her to lose focus on the Huskies.

“Did I lose a little sleep last night? Yes, yes, obviously,” she told The State. “But there’s another game to be played. I’m responsible for 12 individuals that want to beat U-Conn. So I have to get my mind right to prep and help them get ready to try to win the game.”

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