Dawn Staley and the Gamecocks are ready for Dallas
Playing on the big stage, and even in the Final Four, is nothing new for South Carolina.
The Gamecocks have reached at least the Sweet 16 each of the past four years and will be playing in the Final Four for the second time in three years beginning Friday, when USC faces Stanford.
Carolina coach Dawn Staley said her staff and players have learned from past experiences and will lean on them as the Gamecocks try to win their first national title.
“It helps, yeah, when you have experience at the Final Four. We feel different as a coaching staff. We feel better prepared to know what is expected,” Staley said. “We enjoyed it two years ago. We absolutely did. Was it a business trip? It absolutely was. But when it’s your first time, you know, you’re seeing all the different moving parts, and you’re trying to fit all of it in to make it work.”
One area Staley will look to change, as opposed to when South Carolina faced Notre Dame in the 2015 Final Four, is with rest.
She wants to make sure her team is not fatigued entering the biggest game of the season.
USC faced Florida State in Stockton, Calif. on Monday and will have only three days off before facing Stanford.
“It’s a shorter week. It’s hard to prepare,” Staley said. “At this time of the year, rest is equally as important as preparation is. Sometimes that preparation, we’ll be watching film and preparing in that way, just communicating and talking about some things, as opposed to always being on the court. That’s probably the biggest adjustment that we’ll make.”
In order to help with that rest, the Gamecocks went from California to Dallas.
“We just didn’t think it was feasible to go back to Columbia and (then) Dallas without us feeling another time change. Our staff did a great job at just coordinating us, taking care of business in Stockton, making sure we were OK to seamlessly win the regional and then come right from California to Dallas,” Staley said.
“There’s no sweat off our brow. We want to be here. This is what we worked so hard for all season long. We probably would have gone to the moon and back if it was necessary for us to participate in the Final Four.”
A couple of South Carolina’s key contributors also have experience in the Final Four.
All-American A’Ja Wilson had 20 points and nine rebounds against Notre Dame, while starting guard Bianca Cuevas-Moore scored four points with three assists and a steal in 19 minutes against the Fighting Irish.
“You lean on them,” Staley said.
Staley also expects her players without Final Four experience to play well.
Final Four rookies such as Kaela Davis, Allisha Gray and Tyasha Harris have come up big in the NCAA Tournament.
“Our kids have stayed the course, stayed in character,” Staley said. “We’re going to enjoy this.”