Dawn Staley coaches South Carolina to first-ever national championship for Gamecocks

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DALLAS – In a sold-out American Airlines Center, three-time Olympian and current U.S. women’s basketball national team coach, Dawn Staley led her squad, the No. 1-seeded South Carolina Gamecocks, to victory over No. 2-seeded Mississippi State, 67-55, in front of 19,229 fans.

The game pitted the two top teams in the Southeastern Conference against each other with the younger coach taking home the trophy. She became just the second person to both play and serve as a head coach in a national championship game (the other: Kim Mulkey – played at Louisiana Tech, head coach at Baylor).

The win was all the more impressive as the defense of the Gamecocks was crucial in defeating a team led by Vic Schaefer, affectionately known as the “Minister of Defense” in the women’s basketball coaching community. It was the third time the two SEC teams met each other this season. So, in Staley’s words regarding the Bulldogs: “We know exactly the things that create edges for us throughout the game.”

“I just thought, you know, from an offensive standpoint we needed to attack the paint,” explained Staley. “Yes, Mississippi State is a very good defensive team. They’re also a team that fouls a lot. We wanted to make sure that we put ’em back on their heels, put them back in situations in which we were going to make the officials make a call, whether it was a charge, whether it was a block, whether it was a reach-in.”

“We feel like, with any team, a good defensive team or not, if you’re attacking the paint, it’s just a hard guard,” she continued. “Our players stuck to the game plan, you know, executed the game plan to a T. Also I know we talk a lot about other teams being a good defensive team. But South Carolina is a really good defensive team, a really good defensive team. We hang our hat on that. I’m proud of our players. To hold Mississippi State to 55 points, probably 20 points under their average in the tournament, goes to show our commitment to that side of the basketball.”

Led by junior forward A’ja Wilson who finished with 23 points, 10 rebounds and 4 blocks, the Gamecocks trailed only in the first quarter and once they gained the lead, they never looked back on the way to victory, holding Mississippi State without a field goal for over 5 minutes.

The on-court celebration was an emotional time for Wilson and she explained why during the postgame presser.

“Well, in October I lost my grandmother,” said Wilson. “I really kind of dedicated this season to her. It was a very emotional time for me. My teammates really rallied around me, helped me become a better person, a great player. Just to have — for us to face adversity like we did, for us to overcome it, the doubters we had, just shake them off, honestly get this national championship, hanging up a banner, getting this ring, it really meant a lot to me.

This team is just so special,” continued Wilson. “I can’t really put into words and explain to you how special this team really is, on and off the court. For us to really just see smiling faces, just positive vibes, it really set me into tears. I really couldn’t hold them back.”

South Carolina junior guard Alisha Gray posted her first career double-double with 18 points and 10 rebounds. Fellow junior guard Kaela Davis also finished in double figures with 10 points and 6 rebounds. Floor general Bianca Cuevas-Moore was a defensive linchpin for the Gamecocks hindering the production of Mississippi State star guard Morgan William.

“She committed to impacting the game by picking Morgan William up, making it very difficult for her,” said Staley about the performance of Cuevas-Moore. “She knew the game plan was to make it difficult for Morgan to operate in areas in which she could control their team, whether it’s scoring, whether it’s finding other teammates.

“I knew she was going to impact the game in this way from the moment we knew we would play Mississippi State,” continued Staley. “She was great in practice yesterday. She was great in shootaround. If you ask her a question about anything, her answer was, I know the game plan, I got it. A lot of times when a player’s that confident, you don’t know if they’re going to be able to deliver. But I knew deep down Bianca Cuevas was going to come through for us, and she did just that.”

Junior guard Victoria Vivians paced Mississippi State with 12 points plus 4 rebounds. Senior guard Dominique Dillingham finished with 11 points and 4 rebounds. Sophomore center Teaira McCowan pulled down 10 rebounds to go with her 7 points.

The triumph gave South Carolina its first-ever national championship, a feat that was a goal of Staley’s when she left the head coaching job at Temple for the Gamecocks nine seasons ago. She missed winning a national championship when she was a player at Virginia in 1992. Her Cavaliers lost to Stanford that year in the semifinals of the Final Four.

“I never gave up on winning a national championship,” said Staley, “no matter how hard it was, no matter what it looked like. I’m just so happy that I get a chance to share it with so many different people in my coaching and basketball family tree. Coaches, former players, mentors, everybody.”


  • South Carolina wins its first national championship in women’s basketball and the fourth overall in school history joining women’s outdoor track and field (2002), and baseball (2010 & 2011).
  • Staley joins Carolyn Peck (Purdue, 1999) as the only two African-American head coaches to win a national championship.
  • The national championship is the ninth for the Southeastern Conference and first not won by Tennessee. This is the SEC’s first women’s basketball title since the Lady Vols won in 2008.
  • This is the sixth time that teams from the same conference have played for the national championship. The others were 1989 (Tennessee 76, Auburn 60), 1996 (Tennessee 83, Georgia 65), 2006 (Maryland 78, Duke 75 OT), 2009 (UConn 76, Louisville 54), and 2013 (UConn 93, Louisville 60).
  • The 33 wins for South Carolina tie for second most in school history. The Gamecocks won 33 games in 2015-16 and 34 in 2014-15.
  • The Gamecock senior class finishes 129-14, the winningest class in program history.
  • South Carolina becomes the fifth-straight team to have defeated Stanford in the National Semifinal and gone on to win the title, joining UConn in 2009, Texas A&M in 2011, Baylor in 2012, and UConn in 2014.
  • South Carolina becomes the fifth team to win a National Championship game without making a three-point shot, joining Louisiana Tech in 1988, Tenneessee in 1989 and 1991 and UConn in 2002.
  • South Carolina defeats Mississippi State for the third time this season, winning 64-61 in the regular season and 59-49 in the SEC Tournament.
  • South Carolina has now won 11 straight games vs. Mississippi State.
  • South Carolina limited Mississippi State to just 18.6 percent from three-point range (8-43) in their three meetings this year.
  • In the 14 games against Mississippi State in the Dawn Staley-era, the Bulldogs have scored 60 points just twice.
  • South Carolina finishes 12-1 vs. nationally ranked teams this year and is 35-6 vs. ranked teams in the last four years.
  • South Carolina is now 25-13 all-time in the NCAA Tournament, including a 17-5 mark under head coach Dawn Staley. Coach Staley is 19-11 all-time in the NCAA Tournament.
  • South Carolina finishes 99-126 from the line in this year’s NCAA Tournament. The team’s .7857 percentage is 10th best in an NCAA Tournament.
  • South Carolina blocked eight shots, the fourth most in a National Championship game (behind only UConn, 11 in 2000, Notre Dame 11 in 2001 and UConn 9 in 2002).
  • The Gamecocks totaled 13 blocked shots during the Women’s Final Four, tied for fourth-most in history.
  • A’ja Wilson blocked four shots, tied for the eighth most in a National Championship game.
  • Wilson now has 32 blocked shots in NCAA Tournament games, the 15th most by an individual in an NCAA career.
  • With 23 points and 10 rebounds, Wilson posted her fifth double-double in an NCAA Tournament game. She also has 11 double-doubles this season and 29 for her career.
  • Wilson pads her total as the all-time blocks leader in school history (258).
  • Wilson now has the top two single-season blocks performances in school history (103 in 2015-16 and 90 in 2016-17).
  • Wilson’s 10 rebounds give her 29 for the Women’s Final Four, the fifth most by an individual in a Women’s Final Four.
  • South Carolina allowed just 14 points in the first quarter. The Gamecocks allowed just 78 points combined (13.0 per game) in the first quarter of their six NCAA Tournament games.
  • Allisha Gray and A’ja Wilson each scored in double figures in every NCAA Tournament game this year.
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