Gamecocks forward Aliyah Boston, left, and forward Sania Feagin, right, before a game (Photos by Caroline Barry)

USC women’s basketball team was named the No. 1 overall seed in the NCAA Division I Women’s Basketball Tournament for the second consecutive year.

The University of South Carolina team will begin its title defense against No. 16 seed Norfolk State in Columbia on Friday.

“We won’t shortchange the scout,” said Gamecocks head coach Dawn Staley in an interview with ESPN about the lower-ranked team. 

The Gamecocks would play the winner of No. 8 seed South Florida and No. 9 seed Marquette if they beat Norfolk State. That game will take place Sunday regardless of whether the Gamecocks make it to that stage.

This is the 11th consecutive tournament appearance for the Gamecocks, who have won two national championships since 2017.  

And USC this year was named a No. 1 seed for the third consecutive season. 

The Gamecocks have a greater than 99% chance of reaching the Sweet Sixteen in Greenville, South Carolina, later in the month, according to the data journalism site FiveThirtyEight. The team has a 64% chance to repeat as national champions.

“(The team is) now embracing in a different and more calm way of having a target on their backs,” Staley said in an interview with ESPN. “Last year it was the target with pressure. This year, it’s a target with pressure, but we’ve already been through it.”

Senior forward Aliyah Boston said the team isn’t going to underestimate Norfolk State.

“We were talking today, and we were saying that we need to be ready,” Boston said on ESPN.

Teams in South Carolina’s region of the bracket include familiar opponents such as No. 2 seed Maryland, No. 4 seed UCLA and No. 11 seed Mississippi State.

“I don’t want to put the cart before the horse, but sometimes when you’re in a tournament setting like this it’s always a good thing to have played someone,” Staley said. “We’ve got a couple of teams that we’ve played this year.”

No. 3 seed Notre Dame and No. 5 seed Oklahoma are other top regional seeds.

The Gamecocks could have a tougher challenge if they meet Stanford in the Final Four in Dallas, Texas, pundits say. USC beat then-No. 2 Stanford on the road in November – in overtime.

The Gamecocks first will have to perform against Norfolk State.

“We’re just thinking about the next game, and we have to win the next game,” Staley said during a press conference Sunday. “That’s been the mentality all season long.”

Norfolk State won the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference Tournament on Saturday. Head coach Larry Vickers believes the team is ready for the NCAA tournament.

“We’ve been on the road in tough places before,” Vickers told The Virginian Pilot. “This group has seen top-10 competition. We’ll be ready to play. We’ll embrace the moment. It doesn’t matter what the score is, we’re trying to play basketball our way and continue to put our brand out there.”

The Gamecocks’ senior class includes several marquee players hoping to win a second national championship during their college career: Aliyah Boston, Zia Cooke, Brea Beal, Victaria Saxton, Laeticia Amihere and Olivia Thompson.

Boston won the 2022 Wooden Award, the national player of the year award, and is expected to be the No. 1 overall pick in the 2023 WNBA Draft in April.

Gamecocks head coach Dawn Staley, right, high-fives guard Zia Cook, left.

Aliyah Boston at the free throw line