David Cloninger

There was no way USC would lose in the championship game

South Carolina women's basketball: An epic season

Dawn Staley and the South Carolina Gamecocks captured their first basketball national championship.
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Dawn Staley and the South Carolina Gamecocks captured their first basketball national championship.

It’s strange to feel great and guilty at the same time.

That was me as I scurried from my airport cab to the entrance of American Airlines Arena in Dallas to catch the women’s national championship game.

There was a lot of good-natured ribbing – one favorite was, “Well, look who decided to show up when his first date didn’t work out!” – but most of it was a lot of hand-shaking and back-patting. The folks I’ve gotten to know from the women’s basketball team over the past nine years all knew what I knew.

There was no way South Carolina was losing that day. There was just no way.

I felt great, because when you’re around a team that long, you do start to care about the individuals and want them to do well. And you always want the better story as a newspaperman, because you get to write it and, hopefully, make somebody’s forever. As much as the internet has changed journalism, you can’t frame a web page.

So I knew when Morgan William bottomed that shot to beat UConn, the Gamecocks won the national championship. Yes, Mississippi State’s good. No, I’m not saying the Gamecocks wouldn’t have beat the Huskies had they advanced.

But with UConn and the story of going for 113 consecutive wins and five national championships out of the way, USC had to be crashing through walls to play that game.

I wouldn’t change my experience with the men’s team on its Final Four run for anything. Yet every time the women’s team won, I felt guilty for not being there. There were plans for me to do both, if at all possible, but with the novelty of the men’s team doing what it was doing, we had to plug as many leaks as possible until I could.

Thanks to Ben Breiner, Tracy Glantz, Josh Kendall and Matt Connolly for handling the games that I didn’t. I watched if I could or had the live stats up for each of the five previous games, from Greenville to New York to Phoenix, before I hopped the first flight out to Dallas after the men’s semifinal.

Walking in, toting my duffel because I didn’t have time to get to the hotel, it was a crash course in American Airlines Arena (they had a slushie machine!) and trying to get my bearings. I found my main man, radio play-by-play voice Brad Muller, to catch up on the last five games and see how the team had handled being in this moment.

I told him and quite a few others what I felt – that this game was in the bag. Get your ring sizes finalized and the parade route planned, because there was just no way.

Mississippi State led 7-1 in the first couple of minutes. I swallowed hard.

Then the Gamecocks took over, survived the inevitable MSU run, and I was filming celebrations between picking confetti out of my keyboard.

I thought about the voyage the team had taken, from Dawn Staley’s first rough few years to the breakthrough in 2012, and how she kept elevating it. I thought about how USC had gone a century without winning one national championship in any sport, and now it has seven in the past 15 years. I thought about running into Eric Hyman in Phoenix, watching the Gamecocks practice, and what a job he did landing Frank Martin and Staley to resurrect each program.

And I thought that I’m amassing quite the collection of lapel pins and programs after three SEC Tournament titles and two Final Fours in three years. Still feel guilty for missing the first five games of this championship run, but so, so glad I was there for the sixth.

Follow on Twitter at @DCTheState

Game-by-game results

Nov. 14

@ (7) Ohio State

W 92 - 80

Nov. 20

vs Hampton

W 92 - 38

Nov. 21

vs Maine

W 79 - 42

Nov. 22

vs St Peter's

W 93 - 38

Nov. 27

vs (4) Louisville

W 83 - 59

Dec. 1

@ (14) Texas

W 76 - 67

Dec. 4

@ Duke

L 63 - 74

Dec. 11

vs Minnesota

W 98 - 58

Dec. 15

vs Clemson

W 83 - 61

Dec. 18

vs (9) UCLA

W 66 - 57

Dec. 21

@ Savannah State

W 70 - 30

Jan. 1

vs Alabama

W 93 - 45

Jan. 5

@ Auburn

W 73 - 47

Jan. 8

@ Florida

W 81 - 62

Jan. 12

vs Georgia

W 66 - 63

Jan. 15

@ LSU

W 84 - 61

Jan. 19

vs Ole Miss

W 65 - 46

Jan. 23

vs (4) Miss St

W 64 - 61

Jan. 26

@ Georgia

W 62 - 44

Jan. 30

vs Tennessee

L 74 - 76

Feb. 2

@ (25) Kentucky

W 75 - 63

Feb. 5

@ Arkansas

W 79 - 49

Feb 9

vs Auburn

W 60 - 41

Feb. 13

@ (1) UConn

L 55 - 66

Feb. 16

vs Vanderbilt

W 82 - 51

Feb. 19

@ Missouri

L 60 - 62

Feb. 23

@ Texas A&M

W 80 - 64

Feb. 26

vs (22) Kentucky

W 95 - 87

March 3^

vs Georgia

W 72 - 48

March 4^

vs (20) Kentucky

W 89 - 77

March 5^

vs (6) Miss St

W 59 - 49

March 17*

vs UNC Asheville

W 90 - 40

March 19*

vs Arizona State

W 71 - 68

March 25*

vs Quinnipiac

W 100 - 58

March 27*

vs FSU

W 71 - 64

March 31*

vs Stanford

W 62 - 53

April 2*

vs Miss St

W 67 - 55

^ SEC Tournament

*NCAA Tournament

USC women’s roster

NO

NAME

POS

MPG

HT

WT

CLASS

HOMETOWN

0

Victoria Patrick

G

6.7

5’-8”

-

FR

Orlando, FL

1

Bianca Cuevas-Moore

G

22.7

5’-6”

-

JR

Bronx, NY

3

Kaela Davis

G

27.5

6’-2”

-

JR

Suwanee, GA

4

Doniyah Cliney

G

17.5

6’-0”

-

SO

Newark, NJ

10

Allisha Gray

G

28.3

6’-0”

-

JR

Sandersville, GA

12

Araion Bradshaw

G

6.8

5’-6”

-

FR

Boston

15

Tiffany Davis

G

7.3

5’-7”

-

SR

Houston

21

Mikiah Herbert Harrigan

F

16.7

6’-2”

-

FR

Pembroke Pines, FL

22

A’ja Wilson

F

28.3

6’-5”

-

JR

Hopkins

35

Alexis Jennings

F

-

6’-3”

-

JR

Madison, AL

41

Alaina Coates

C

26.8

6’-4”

-

SR

Irmo

52

Tyasha Harris

G

25.8

5’-10”

-

FR

Noblesville, IN

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