STANFORD, Calif. — They played all those games on the same court.
What’s one more, even if they’re on opposing teams?
“It’ll be good to see Z again,” Asia Dozier grinned.
Dozier and Xylina “Z” McDaniel meet again on Sunday as South Carolina and North Carolina throw down in the Sweet 16, the two former Spring Valley High teammates each seeking a berth in the Elite Eight. McDaniel won the first matchup, scoring 14 points in UNC’s 74-66 win against the Gamecocks on Dec. 18 (Dozier had three), but this time around, the stakes are heavily raised.
In Myrtle Beach, the two former Vikings’ stars embraced and congratulated each other. “No hard feelings” was the expression.
In Stanford, one of their seasons will end.
“I don’t feel like we’re the same team that we were a few months back,” Dozier said. “We’ve really embraced our roles and stuck to our bread-and-butter all season. I think we kind of got away from that the first time we played them.”
The two were part of a substantial collection of talent at Spring Valley from 2008-12, winning two state championships and playing for another. Goose Creek, led by a forward named Aleighsa Welch, beat Dozier and McDaniel in 2010 while the Vikings won in 2009 and 2011. In 2012, the pair saw another team start a dynasty – Dutch Fork, featuring center Alaina Coates.
Dozier was the South Carolina Player of the Year four times and South Carolina’s Miss Basketball as a senior, while McDaniel was the state Gatorade Player of the Year as a junior. Naturally, Dawn Staley wanted both.
“Z is a great player,” Staley said. “She’s one that got away.”
“I committed before Z,” Dozier said. “My job after I committed was to get her to come, too. But she wanted to do what felt best for her and go where she was going to be most comfortable. That’s what she did, and I support her for it.”
“It got extremely close,” McDaniel said. “To be honest, it was so hard … the way I made my decision was how far the schools were from my house. South Carolina was 25 minutes from my house, (North) Carolina is three to four hours. I was like, ‘I don’t want my dad (former NBA star Xavier McDaniel) always checking up on me.’ My decision has been the best I’ve ever made in my life.”
Dozier had an up-and-down freshman year at USC while McDaniel averaged 11.3 points in an ACC Rookie of the Year season, each seeing their seasons end in the NCAA’s round of 32. This season, Dozier has become a solid, do-everything starter who doesn’t have to score to be effective, while McDaniel has teamed with the rest of the Tar Heels’ young talent to present a formidable challenge.
Spring Valley coach Anne Long has no doubt the two will be playing at a high level Sunday.
“It reminds me of the Magic Johnson-Larry Bird days,” Long said. “Asia had some wonderful leadership qualities and was more vocal, doing the things you have to do. If a coach wanted to have an example of what intensity was like, just put Xylina McDaniel on the floor.”
Long said she never had a pair of players that talented at the same time. She often would put the two against each other in practice, coaxing their leadership abilities along with their basketball skills.
“They pretty much knew what it took to get there, they just needed some guidance,” Long said. “Both of them were the ideal student-athlete, really. They were competitive, they were consistently working day-in and day-out, almost like they were on a mission to be the best they could be.”
The two will be featured Sunday. Dozier will start and will be trusted to keep finding that loose ball or driving the lane when the shot clock dwindles. McDaniel teams with Stephanie Mavunga on the block to challenge USC’s twin towers of Coates and Elem Ibiam.
“It’s going to be fun,” McDaniel said. “The first time playing against them was a lot of fun, seeing (Dozier), Khadijah (Sessions), Tiffany (Mitchell). I played with Khadijah in AAU. I played against Tiffany for years. It’s really competitive, but it’s the most fun I’ve had in a while.”
The personal aspect of it will take a back seat. “When the ball is tossed up, our opponents are nameless and faceless. We just want to get wins,” Staley said.
Dozier and Long surely didn’t want to offer any guesses on the final score.
“We’re going to have a Spring Valley player in the Elite Eight,” Long said with a laugh. “That’s my prediction.”