ADMINISTRATIVE assistants scrambled around the office of the South Carolina women’s basketball program Thursday afternoon. There were hundreds of T-shirt orders to fill for fans who want to share in the joy of the Gamecocks’ NCAA tournament run.
The team wore similar T-shirts in practice sessions throughout the season with “I believe” emblazoned across the front and “The Time Is Now” across the bottom of the back.
There is no shortage of slogans for Dawn Staley’s team. An entrance to the practice facility is adorned with a sign that reads “WAWGWAWN,” which the team knows as code for “We all we got; we all we need.”
Before every game in the postseason, the assistant coach who prepared a scouting report on the opponent scrawled a few letters across the greaseboard, then sat back and let the team decipher the cryptogram.
Associate head coach Lisa Boyer had the honors for USC’s first-round game against Eastern Michigan and came up with “LYDT,” which stood for “Live your dream today.”
Then it was assistant coach Nikkie McCray’s turn before USC’s second-round game against Purdue and she scrolled out “OTIN,” which stood for “Our Time Is Now.”
Boyer again is responsible for the game plan and the USC version of Wheel of Fortune late Saturday when the fifth-seeded Gamecocks take on top-seeded national powerhouse Stanford in the Fresno Regional.
Something to do with David and Goliath, perhaps?
Staley admits that she will play the underdog role to the hilt in the next couple of days. It is a strategy that has worked well as her team and program built momentum this season by winning at Tennessee for the first time, advancing to the SEC tournament semifinals and then winning on Purdue’s home court this past weekend.
“We’re going to have to play off the underdog,” Staley said. “We’re not the favorite at all. For us, we’re going to put all the pressure on Stanford. All of it is on them.”
Stanford is where Staley envisions her program being some day. The Cardinal have won 707 games in 26 seasons under coach Tara VanDerveer. They won national championships in 1990 and 1992 and have appeared in 10 Final Fours, including each of the past four seasons.
Stanford is a contender for the national title every season. So, the Cardinal serve as a gauge for where USC stands on the national level.
“I think we are getting there,” USC senior Courtney Newton said. “(Staley) told us, this is the level we are trying to get to. I definitely think we’re on the rise and we are getting there. This is our opportunity to prove to people that we’re on that level.”
USC will attempt to prove itself against a Stanford team that is tall, talented and terrific. Stanford counts six players who are as tall or taller than 6-foot-3 reserve Elem Ibiam, USC’s tallest player. Stanford senior forward Nnemkadi Ogwumike, who can do a standing back flip, is one of four finalists for the Naismith Award as the nation’s top player.
Stanford has rolled up a 33-1 record, winning by an average margin of 21 points. Its lone loss was on Connecticut’s home court during the second week of the season. The Cardinal shoot well, rebound with authority and play standout defense.
“They probably are the most fluid, potent offensive team we’ve faced,” Staley said. “They’re calculated. They know what they want, and more times than not they get it. We just have to decrease the amount of times they get it.”
Staley and her team held theirfirst film session on Stanford on Thursday afternoon. USC used to splice videotape so the team could view an opponent in segments or to watch specific areas. Now, Staley has the team watch entire games to get a better feel for the talent level of an opponent and how it plays.
USC has another film session scheduled today prior to practice at The Save Mart Center in Fresno, Calif. Then Staley will speak to the team. She said she will attempt to balance playing off the underdog role with instilling confidence in her team.
Come Saturday, Staley will turn the pregame talk over to Boyer, who will go over the game plan, then scroll a few letters on the board as one final motivational pitch to her team.
Perhaps it should be “STG.”
That would be “Slay the giant.”
Watch commentaries by Morris Mondays at 6 and 11 p.m. on ABC Columbia News (WOLO-TV)