March 17, 2016

COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) Yolett McPhee-McCuin would not take no for an answer, not when it came to learning basketball from one of the game's greatest competitors in Dawn Staley.

''She is one who, if she wants you to be her mentor, whether you say yes or no, you're going to be her mentor because she's pretty persistent,'' a smiling Staley said Thursday, a day before the 16h-seeded Dolphins play their first NCAA Tournament game against No. 1 seed South Carolina.

Jacksonville (22-10) will be playing its first NCAA game against Final Four favorites South Carolina (31-1). No. 8 seed George Washington (26-6) takes on No. 9 seed Kansas State (18-12) in an earlier game. The winners play Sunday for a spot in the Sweet 16.

McPhee-McCuin met Staley when she was a player for Rhode Island in 2004 and Staley was coach at Temple.

The Jacksonville coach chuckles at her relentless characterization, saying the relationship developed naturally over time as Staley graciously gave her encouragement and advice at each stop from junior college to major school assistant to first-time NCAA Tournament head coach.

''We've had a relationship for over a decade,'' McPhee-McCuin said. ''A lot of what I do at this program, I model after what she's done with this program and at Temple. Not step for step, but definitely the how and the why.''

McPhee-McCuin is excited and determined to bring her Atlantic Sun Conference champions to play against her mentor.

''There's never been an occasion where I reached out and she hadn't picked up,'' McPhee-McCuin said. ''She just wants to see other young coaches be successful.''

Although, just not this weekend.

The Gamecocks have been on a season long mission to return to the Final Four and win a national championship. Staley has already soaked in the analysts buzz that her Gamecocks don't have what it takes to bring down three-time defending champion and overall top seed UConn.

''I believe we have enough on our roster to get it done,'' Staley said.

Other things to watch at the Columbia site:

CLEMSON CONNECTION: Jacksonville coach Yolett McPhee-McCuin was glad to catch up with George Washington senior Jonquel Jones. The Bahama natives also share a connection to Clemson where McPhee-McCuin was an assistant and Jones a freshman. A short time later, the 6-foot-6 Jones transferred to George Washington and has helped them to back-to-back NCAA Tournament trips. McPhee-McCuin said at least the two won't hear the boos from the crowd as they did with the Tigers. ''You know how that gets,'' she said of South Carolina's chief rival.

KEEP TWEAKING: Kansas State coach Jeff Mittie said he and his staff kept modifying his team's defensive schemes for much of the season. When he joked to leading scorer Breanna Lewis recently he was putting in defense No. 88, she shot back ''89.'' ''We had to keep working at it,'' Mittie said.

NOTRE DAME TIES: George Washington coach Jonathan Tsipis spent nine seasons on the staff of Notre Dame coach Muffet McGraw before joining the Colonials after the 2011-12 season. Tsipis thought the NCAA Tournament selectors might try and match his Atlantic 10 Conference champions against the Fighting Irish because of past ties. When the bracket came out, McGraw texted Tsipis her congratulations and ''Glad you're not coming here.'' `

ELI'S COMING: Eli the Bear, South Carolina's tiny, furry mascot was in the interview room once more, lovingly attended to by all-Southeastern Conference first-teammer Tiffany Mitchell. Eli has been part of South Carolina since early in the season and a regular attendee at postgame media sessions. The South Carolina senior made sure Eli's shirt fit well and even spoke for him when he received a question about his first NCAA Tournament. ''He's really hyped,'' Mitchell said, channeling Eli. ''I can't get him to sit down.''

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