STOCKTON, Calif. – South Carolina defeated Quinnipiac to advance to the Elite Eight for the third time in program history. The Gamecocks will face Florida State March 27 in an attempt to reach the Final Four.
Transcript of Press Conference
DAWN STALEY: We are excited to be in this position. This is a position in which we’ve worked so hard. We control our own destiny, and hopefully we’ll come out and perform like we’ve performed all season long, and we’re just excited to play a very competitive Florida State basketball team.
Q. A’Ja, Florida State, two years ago in the Elite 8 in Greensboro: What do you remember about that game, really competitive one that went right down to the wire. What do you remember about that first game?
A’JA WILSON: I mean, like you said, they are a very competitive team. They compete for 40 minutes. They are very physical, and that was something that we really kind of — helped bring us to the win is that we became physical and we became even more competitive.
So that’s most that I remember from that game. Of course remember going to the Elite 8 and just the feeling — I mean, going to the Final Four and just that feeling. That’s something that I really want these girls to experience and, that’s what we’re going to go out there and try to do.
Q. Kaela, what had you giggling just now? And secondly — I just have to know. I’m so confused over here. And how excited are you for the opportunity to get that chance to punch a ticket to the Final Four?
KAELA DAVIS: There’s just a lot of jokes on this team. Yesterday we shot a nice video for our men’s team and Coach couldn’t —
DAWN STALEY: That’s T. Don’t give the T out.
KAELA DAVIS: I’m just excited, though. Obviously this is — I came here to be in these games, to be in this situation. You know, wouldn’t want to be on another team and you know, trying to get to the Final Four with another group of girls. So I’m just excited.
Q. Kaela, could you talk about growing up the daughter of an NBA player, and I understand your brother is in the NIT. Can you tell about growing up with Antonio and your brother, was there any sibling rivalry between you?
KAELA DAVIS: Oh, all the time. My twin brother. Yeah, one-on-one games, got shut down a lot. So that stopped at a early age.
But it was just fun. Obviously getting to — just to see my dad’s work ethic and what it takes to kind of play at the highest level, you know, that was always fun. I was just always excited; Excited to see him play and I’ve got to live a lot of different places and experience a lot of different things. It’s been a blessing. It’s been a really cool opportunity.
And obviously like I said, my brother, they are flying out to New York today to play in the final for the NIT. A lot of basketball going on in my family right now, but it’s an exciting time for us.
Q. Bianca, what was that 2015 game like for you, kind of being a freshman who had to step up?
BIANCA CUEVAS-MOORE: It was good I guess. I don’t know.
Q. Allisha, how does this team always seem to look so relaxed and loose? The stakes are rising but I can’t tell by looking on the podium right now that you guys are ready to play the biggest game of the season tomorrow?
ALLISHA GRAY: We are just a funny team, goofy. We know there’s a time and place for everything, so once we’re on the court, we’re serious and ready to play but right now it’s a time where you get your all — your giggles out and stuff and you can be lackadaisical and stuff. But once you get out on the court, we know it’s game time and we’ll be ready to go.
Q. Allisha, your time in the ACC, does that give you extra familiarity with Florida State and does that help in your preparation?
ALLISHA GRAY: I wouldn’t say an advantage because they are definitely a different team than they were two years ago, so I just have to come in and prepare for them like I haven’t met them before and like they are a brand new team.
Q. What do you remember from a couple years ago playing them? Romero said last night her body just hurt after that game; it was so physical. Sue was mentioning last night how special it is to scrimmage with this team the last couple of years in the preseason.
A’JA WILSON: Wait, could you repeat, that first part of the question? Oh —
Q. Romero said her body, it was such a physical game. You won by six and her body was sore afterwards. It was one of those battles; a fight, she called it.
A’JA WILSON: Yeah, just kind of going off what I said, last time it was a very physical game. I mean, when something is on the line, you’re going to come and fight for it and you really want it. I think it just comes down to want. I think we all know that the talent is in the room. I mean, we all know we’re talented, but at the same time, when you’re playing something such as the Final Four, it comes down to heart and want.
And I think after that game, I think we really wanted it and we went out and fought for it, and the results kind of showed. But I haven’t really got a chance to scrimmage them, but it’s always good to scrimmage a great team like Florida State. So it’s good, a good little rivalry.
Q. You’re obviously up for the top Player of the Year Award in college basketball. Do you feel like in this tournament right now, you’ve made a significant statement that, hey, I am the best player in basketball right now?
A’JA WILSON: I honestly don’t even really know how to answer that question honestly. I think I’m just kind of doing the same thing I’ve been doing. My biggest thing is just being efficient and just going out there and helping my team get a win. I credit all my teammates for giving me the ball and just looking for me and just keeping up with me and staying with me.
I’m probably a hard person to deal with but they really do a great job of just handling me. So I really just give it all to them, and I wouldn’t be in the position that I am to even receive those awards and even be a finalist for awards such as the National Player of the Year without them. So I really credit them for just being and keeping up with me.
Q. A’Ja said she didn’t really remember or didn’t really scrimmage against South Carolina — you’re South Carolina. Didn’t really scrimmage against Florida State. Does anybody remember scrimmaging against Florida State and when you learned from that?
DAWN STALEY: We actually aren’t supposed to talk about the scrimmage. So let’s leave those questions alone, because it was a closed-door thing and not supposed to be publicized.
Q. For A’Ja, and forgive me for not knowing, watching you play last night, we don’t ever see players wear shin guards, and you were talking about the physicality — you guys were talking about the physicality. Is there anything, you want to tell us why you do that and how it helps?
A’JA WILSON: Last year I was battling with shin issues and I always had kind of a bad habit of a person kind of kicking me in the shins, and it would really, really hurt. So they have these things that are molded to my shin, kind of shin guards.
They really help me because then I know I’m protected, because kind of getting hit by a bunch of people in that shin area, it doesn’t really affect me any more now that I have my shin guards. That’s why I wear them.
Q. Not asking specifically about the scrimmage, but is there a slight rivalry growing now because you have met in the Elite 8 before and you guys are getting a little bit more familiarity with each other? For any of the players, particularly for A’Ja.
A’JA WILSON: I guess. I feel like we’ve seen them. We’ve seen them a lot. I don’t really know exactly. I don’t know how they feel about it. But hey, it’s just a game. It’s just a game we play.
Q. In watching your opponent last night, they gave up a lot of easy baskets early in the game and seemed to really make some changes defensively. I think Oregon State only scored 17 points in the second half. Just for any of the players, did you see any changes in the way they approached the second half, and does it make you think you’re going to face a team that plays defense like that tomorrow then, too?
KAELA DAVIS: We only saw — we only really got to sit down and watch the second half. Obviously I feel like that’s when Florida State looked the best.
I mean, yeah, obviously like we said, it’s a game to go to the Final Four, so you know, we imagine it’s going to be as competitive as possible.
Yeah, I mean, they really turned the defense up, and I think they just — their whole energy. I think they had a completely different energy, a completely different focus in the second half. I don’t think we need to be prepared for for a half; I think that’s something we need to prepare for for 40 minutes.
Q. For Ty, this might be an awkward question because Coach is sitting so close to you. How has that relationship grown throughout the year? You’ve played the position that Coach obviously demands some of the most of being the point guard. How has she helped you grow into that role to handle the responsibilities that you have to be able to run the floor like you do?
TYASHA HARRIS: She’s always in my ear in practice and even in the game. Like when they are about to shoot free throws, the other team about to shoot free throws, she’ll pull me over and tell me what needs to be done. So just, her just being in my ear and telling me what’s right and what’s wrong.
Q. The questions about the scrimmage came up because Sue last night just talked so much about the respect that she has for your program; that once they get to know a team like they know you a little bit, she finds herself cheering for you all year. What does that mean to you to hear that?
DAWN STALEY: I think it’s part of the game. I think when you watch as much film as we watch, there are certain teams and certain styles that you like. And certainly, I hope that our team plays a style of play that, you know, could make any coach proud.
We play hard on both sides of the ball. We try to do the right things. We play a disciplined type of basketball on both sides of the ball, and when you watch it so much, you learn to appreciate that. She does have a team in which plays extremely hard. A lot of us, the players that she has on her team, she won a recruiting battle.
So I mean, she has the type of players that we like to have in our program and it’s a mutual respect.
Q. You were able to rest a number of your starters in the fourth quarter; they were not. How much do you think/hope that will make a difference tomorrow?
DAWN STALEY: That won’t make a difference tomorrow. I can assure you that at this stage of the game, you just — just play. You find the energy. You persevere and you find what it takes to win the game and get to the next stage of this NCAA Tournament.
So we’re not — they have got a day of rest. They will have a practice today. They will have the rest of the day to enjoy and rest and watch the NCAA men’s games and the women’s games. So I don’t think that will play a part in tomorrow’s results.
Q. I know you recruited Shakayla pretty hard way back when. Do you maintain any relationship with her and what’s it like meeting her again two years later?
DAWN STALEY: Recruited Shakayla and Nicole Ekhomu both pretty hard. Shakayla played on the USA team two summers ago, the U-19 in Russia. I kept up with her because she played for another team. I don’t really try to talk to them afterwards, because I don’t like to, you know — I don’t want to meddle in other people’s teams. But got to know her family well, and she’s progressed nicely. She’s always one that got away, that you think about what could have been.
Q. Can you talk about Kaela’s performance yesterday, maybe break it down a bit, and how — the matchup, the backcourt she will have tomorrow against Florida State, how that matchup looks?
DAWN STALEY: Kaela is playing some of her best basketball. She saved it up for this time of the season. She is a player in which — it’s a hard guard for anybody. She’s big. She’s 6-2, a perimeter player that can do a lot of things with the basketball.
I’m impressed with what she does from a defensive standpoint. Obviously it’s well known what she can do from an offensive standpoint. And she’s living up to — she’s living up to her reputation as being a tremendous scorer, and she does it in so many ways but defensively she is a big presence out there on the floor.
What we’re hoping to utilize, everything that she’s doing on both sides of the ball against a Florida State team which will be very physical, fast, play fast. So hopefully we’ll be able to use some of our length on the perimeter against their speed.
Q. Last night, I saw you sitting down watching the Oregon State/Florida State game. What surprised you about the way Florida State managed to come back after being down 17?
DAWN STALEY: I mean, I wasn’t surprised. I just think that over the course of a 40-minute game, wills are going to be imposed on different teams.
I just thought that Florida State imposed their will after the start of the game. The next 35 minutes, or 32 minutes of the game, they just would not — they were relentless and would not allow Oregon State to run their sets and be comfortable in what they were trying to do, and they disrupted them. So it was really impressive to see them disrupt for as long as they did.
Q. We talked to you the other day about just the challenges of playing across the country. You have such a good following, and Oregon State is gone, and they brought a big crowd. Do you think tomorrow night, being that it’s a night game, do you feel like the crowd will be — there’s a good chance of a better crowd, and what are your thoughts on the attendance?
DAWN STALEY: I think there were like 4,500 people. And we do lose probably one of the closest teams to the venue.
I think people are excited to be here. I think you’re going to see two of the top teams in the country vying for a Final Four spot. I think the people here in Stockton have done a great job of trying to promote it.
I don’t know what the turnout will be, but surely, surely, to have, you know, us and Florida State playing tomorrow night, it’s at a decent time, too. 6:00 PM is a great time in which you can come and still get dinner afterwards. We should have some people coming in, as well. Hopefully our fans, some more of our fans, can make the trip west after watching our guys play in New York.
Q. You’ve won I think 151 games in the last five years. You lead the nation in attendance by a wide margin. What are some of the things that South Carolina as a program that you’re most proud of with how things have developed to this point?
DAWN STALEY: Well, I’m probably most proud of, you know, how it’s all come together. I think the biggest common denominator in all of it is the type of people that we’ve recruited and the type of people that come out to support our games. It is truly a lifestyle to support our program and the families that come into our program.
You know, they get a chance to have an experience like no other. The way the fans support us, both on the road and at home, and just every day life, to go to the grocery store, to go to the malls. It is somewhat of a hardship because some of our players are just going out to pick up some things at the mall and it turns out to be a selfie session, which is, you know, it comes with the territory.
The way they support us, we make them feel very much a part of our family, and that’s probably the biggest — the biggest mutual respect that we have for each other, our fans and our program.
Q. Just seeing your players up here on the podium just laughing, joking with each other, what’s that like for you as a coach? Is it refreshing to see your players just being so relaxed before such a major game?
DAWN STALEY: I mean, you don’t want them uptight. I think tomorrow will bring a lot of pressure and it won’t be a laughing matter at this point. But they are pretty calm. They are cool. They get along with one another. You know, they are kids. I want them to enjoy the moment.
There is a time and a place for it all, and I want them to be comfortable. I want them to be loose. Because the team that gets to play at its normal composure is the team that is going to probably win the basketball game; that’s closest to what they have played like all season long; approaching it when the adrenaline settle the down, is the team that will probably get out to a good start.
Q. Because we like to tell balanced stories, your players talk about a Lifesaver habit. Do you really eat 20 a game and when your mouth is full, does it keep you from yelling at them quite so loudly? We have to give you a chance to respond to these thoughts from your gals.
DAWN STALEY: Probably more than 20. I would say more than 20. They probably only see 20 because half of them are in the game.
I don’t know, I used to joke around that I wanted fresh breath when I’m talking to the officials (laughter). No, it’s just become a habit. I like mints. I like mints outside of — outside of actually coaching. I do, sometimes, pop one in before a time-out and I’m talking to them, and they have made a running joke of, things flying out during the time-out. I have yet to see that yet, though.
Q. Does this go back to even during your playing days in college when you would snap the rubber band? Are these, maybe not superstitions, but ways you deal with pressure or coaching or playing?
DAWN STALEY: Coping mechanisms, huh? I guess it’s become a habit. I don’t eat — I eat probably more fruity stuff outside of the games. But you know, the way — I don’t know who lines them up, but they line them up so perfectly, it’s enticing. So I have to go out and grab a few of them.
Q. What a great year for South Carolina basketball. The men’s game is about to tip off, if it hasn’t already, and the success you are all having this season. How might this bode for of your programs, the rising tide lifting both ships?
DAWN STALEY: It just goes to show, when you are supported like we are supported from the president to the administrators to our fans, to other coaches that are at the University of South Carolina; when that type of support is there, you can succeed abundantly and that’s what’s happened to both of our programs from a basketball standpoint.
But our women’s soccer team is great. Our football team went to a bowl game. Our equestrian team, they have been No. 1. They won the National Championship. Our track team’s won national championships.
So when you’re supported the way that we have been supported, I think it becomes part of what can happen, and I’m super proud of Frank. In the five years that he’s been at South Carolina, I know the pain that he’s been through. I used to tell him, “This will be a distant memory.” Although he’s probably fueled by what happened maybe five years ago when he first got started, but I’m sure it makes up. Today, moving forward, it makes up for some of those hardship years that he had.