2017 NCAA Tournament Sweet 16, Stockton Region
#12 Quinnipiac Bobcats (29-6, 17-3 MAAC) vs. #1 South Carolina Gamecocks (29-4, 14-2 SEC)
Date: Saturday, March 25, 2017, 1:00 p.m. (PT) / 4:00 p.m. (ET)
Location: Stockton Arena, Stockton, California
Series: First meeting between the teams
THE MODERATOR: Good morning. I’m pleased to welcome South Carolina Gamecocks coach, Dawn Staley.
DAWN STALEY: We’re excited to be in Stockton. We got here yesterday and we got a couple of — we got a practice in yesterday, and we’re pretty excited about the challenges that we’re faced within this region. We play a tough Quinnipiac basketball team that we’ve been preparing for for the past couple of days, and hopefully that will pay off tomorrow afternoon.
Q. Do you feel like with how successful this team has been, sometimes it’s been a little overlooked, kind of how young it is, and how few seniors there are, especially with Alaina now out.
DAWN STALEY: We just approach things the same way. We just try to prep our players to play each game, and obviously there are a lot of moving parts from the previous years to this year. Just having new faces, and actually our perimeter play is totally new in the starting lineup. I just thought they embraced their roles, and when you embrace your role, the team, you, your individual self shines and the team shines; and we’ve been able to combine the two.
Q. You mentioned the word “tough” in talking about Quinnipiac. What else do you know about them and how much have you seen them?
DAWN STALEY: Very skilled team. Very unselfish team. You know, when you look at their stats, the thing that jumps off the page is the amount of assists to field goals, is quite an incredible stat that jumps off the page. And that’s a team in which loves to share the basketball. Makes it very difficult for the opponent.
They love to get ahead of the possession. They get you rocking and rolling from a defensive standpoint. They are very poised and patient, and they wait until you make the mistake defensively and make you pay.
So very tough, skilled, unselfish, and watching them play, not surprised that they are where they are.
Q. How is Allisha, and how much — how effective do you expect her to be?
DAWN STALEY: Allisha practiced. Full practice yesterday. So she’s ready to go.
Q. What was it?
DAWN STALEY: Hamstring. Bad Charley horse.
Q. It seems like your team has been out here a lot in recent years, out West and in northern California. I recall several years ago when you had Tara come over and talk to that group. Your program has come a long way since then. Could you sort of take us through what you’ve done to bring the program to this level?
DAWN STALEY: I mean, we’ve experienced quite a lot of success over the past years. You know, I attribute that to a lot of things. I attribute that to some of the former players who believed in our vision when there was no vision for them to believe in. They believed in the people that made up our program, our coaching staff.
And then when you have that, along with playing in — I know some of the Pac-12 teams will beg to differ, but I think we play in the best conference in the country. When you have that kind of platform that pushes you every day, every game, you know, if you can get lucky and get some talented players, you can experience success in a fair amount of time.
And that’s kind of what happened to us where the people and the platform matched up, and we got lucky and got some great recruits and we just stuck with it.
I think the main thing is, you have to stay the course, no matter what happens. You’ll lose some games that you’re not supposed to lose. You’ll win some games that you’re not supposed to and — you’ll win some games you’re not supposed to win, and if you just stay the course, success is bound to happen.
Q. Part of the success of your program has been your fan attendance. You’ve built such an incredible fan base at South Carolina. Is it tough now flying across the country and playing so far away from that group of people that has been so supportive?
DAWN STALEY: Well, it’s hard on our fans because they have been there. They have supported at home. They do travel. We’ll have some fans that will be here, but it wouldn’t be anything like if it was a little bit closer to where we are. And you know, for them, I feel for them because it’s a hardship. Monetarily, it’s hard for them to get out here and support us in the way that they would like to support us.
But at the same time, they will have watch parties and they will send their support and they will be here in spirit. But second to none; what our fans have created for us in our program, they make our team and our program a lifestyle. I’ve never seen anything unfold like this in all of my years of being around basketball.
Q. Obviously Ty being a freshman, this has to be a big step for her. How has she been handling all this?
DAWN STALEY: Ty’s been calm, cool and collected all season long. She’s a point guard that’s probably far beyond her years. She’s got a great approach to the game. She’s just composed. When you’ve played as many games and you’ve started as many games as she has in our league; she’s battle tested. This stage, I don’t think this stage will phase her. She will approach it the same way. Hopefully she’ll continue to have the success that she’s had.
Q. You have a roster right now that basically, everyone has only — getting No. 1 seeds. And getting to the second weekend of the tournament, and I wanted to ask, does that change things at all culture-wise, and approach to players who have really only known this kind of success?
DAWN STALEY: Yeah, it’s kind of weird that A’ja Wilson, Alaina Coates, they have only lost, I don’t know, less than ten games over their careers. Maybe not Alaina. A’Ja, definitely. It’s what they have made it. We just coach and they bring us along for the ride.
They are committed to winning, and when you have that kind of winning culture, obviously the winning is part of it, but the culture is the other part of it. It is our leaders leaving a legacy of leadership of how to do things, of having a culture of excellence expectations, and living up to those things, and accountability.
So does it help in recruiting? Absolutely it helps in recruiting to say what we have accomplished over the years and come be a part of this. But it’s a lot of work. It’s not easy. I think sometimes people think it’s easy because we’ve done it over the last few years, but it gets harder having a target on your back and being the hunted, instead of hunting.
But you get used to it, and you have to — I’d rather have it this way than the other way.
Q. You mentioned Quinnipiac does a great job with their assist-to-field-goal ratio. How do you try to disrupt that?
DAWN STALEY: Well, speed has to be involved in playing them. They can’t comfortably look you over and come off their screens. Just play comfortable; shoot practice shots. When they are able to do that, they can beat anybody in the country.
So we have to try to disrupt the pace in which they want to play and execute. And you know, you have to be committed to it for 40 minutes, because if you don’t, they can very well win the game.
Q. Allisha and Kaela were transfers, and it seems like they have obviously played big roles on the team. Why were they able to come in and fit in with the team so quickly?
DAWN STALEY: Well, we’re talking about the culture. Obviously they transferred for a reason, one reason for another, and they chose us. They didn’t go out and start their process over again. They made the calls to us, because they looked at our program as being right there.
So they were looking for something a little bit different. And when you’re looking for something a little bit different, you’re more apt to embrace whatever role that you’re given.
And they have done it, you know, with incredible pride. And you know, I don’t think it always has been as smooth and seamless as we may think it is, because you know, Kaela is used to having a ball in her hands. At Georgia Tech, she probably had the ball in her hands 90 percent of the time.
Here at South Carolina, when Alaina Coates was available, she had it maybe, you know, maybe 30 percent of the time. Now that we don’t have it, maybe she’s got it 50 percent of the time. And that’s hard. That’s a big adjustment.
Allisha Gray is probably a little bit different in that. She just takes what the defense gives her, and she embraces her role and she doesn’t have very much to say. She’s just one that wants to go out and compete and win no matter what. The way that they have transitioned into our program is they embrace their roles. They embrace playing with other great players.
And we almost — you know, you’ve got to communicate. You’ve got to talk to them a lot, and we equate it to that next level. They are all going to go and play in the WNBA and they are all going to go play with other great players. You’re going to have to learn how to play with other great players, and if you’re pretty good at it, you know, you’re going to have some success at the next level.
Q. How much do your own experiences in the game as a player come up this time of year, or even reflections to playing for Olympic Gold or any of those things.
DAWN STALEY: They really don’t come up. Our players, you know, they relate to the here and now. I played 25, 20 years ago. They probably think the footage is in black and white of me playing.
We just kind of, you know, as a coaching staff, we just talk about the things that they relate to now. You make analogies to social, what’s happening on social media, what’s happened in the men’s tournament, things like that they can relate to. They can’t really relate to when I played.
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