Staley another chance vs VanDerveer in women's Final Four
DALLAS (AP) Dawn Staley's first Final Four experience came as a player, and what happened in those three trips with Virginia in the early 1990s still motivate her as South Carolina's coach.
''The emotions, as I reflect on participating in the Final Fours, not being able to win a national championship, is the thing that fuels me as a coach, you know, to check that box off,'' Staley said Thursday. ''Fortunately I've been around some great players to get us back at this point to compete for a national championship. Hopefully, our day has come.''
Staley is back in the Final Four as a coach for the second time in three years. The Gamecocks (31-4) play Stanford (32-5) in the first national semifinal Friday night at the home of the NBA's Dallas Mavericks.
That Virginia team led by Staley lost in the semifinals of the 1990 and 1992 Final Fours to Stanford, when coach Tara VanDerveer was in her first seasons with the Cardinal and they won their only two national titles.
In Staley's other Final Four as a player, the Cavaliers lost in the 1991 championship game to Tennessee after winning their semifinal against UConn, in Geno Auriemma's first Final Four game as a head coach.
The four-time defending national champion Huskies, in their 10th consecutive Final Four, play Mississippi State in the nightcap Friday.
Stanford is back in the Final Four for the first time in four seasons, having to overcome a 16-point deficit after halftime against Notre Dame to win the Lexington Regional final.
''We switch gears fast,'' senior forward Erica McCall said. ''Got to celebrate for maybe one day afterwards. That game against Notre Dame is back behind us now. We're focused on South Carolina.''
The Cardinal are in their 12th Final Four, but had missed the last three after going six of the seven years before that to end a 10-season drought.
''When we first went in 1990, I think there had been total of eight or nine teams that had ever been to the Final Four. Obviously now there's a lot more,'' VanDerveer said, then smiling. ''It's not like we've been gone too long, though. I think we went for a stretch, when we were off for about 11 years. This is better than that.''
Some other things to know about the national semifinal matchup:
0-FER VS TARA: This will be the sixth time Staley has faced VanDerveer, who was her coach on the U.S. women's team that won the gold medal at the 1996 Olympics.
''I'm 0-fer,'' Staley said. ''Of the 1,000 wins that she has, I'm one of the defeated teams. ... She's a hard win. She's been in these situations a number of times, and she definitely uses her experience against us.''
CARDINAL COMEBACKS: Stanford has trailed by at least seven points in six games it has come back to win this season. That includes five of their last six games, all in the Pac-12 and NCAA Tournaments.
TURNING IT UP: Gamecocks junior Kaela Davis has mixed up her shot selection, and is averaging 18 points on 52 percent shooting in seven SEC and NCAA Tournament games. The former Georgia Tech guard has three consecutive 20-point games.
REMEMBER THE FEELING: South Carolina shot blocker A'ja Wilson is one of only four Gamecocks who also were part of the 2015 Final Four team. She wants a better ending in her junior season.
''The biggest thing I've been preaching is I don't want my teammates to feel the way I felt last year and the year before that,'' Wilson said. ''It's not a good feeling.''
The Gamecocks lost to Notre Dame in the 2015 national semifinal, and to Syracuse in the Sweet 16 a year ago.
AUSTRALIAN ALARM: Stanford sophomore forward Alanna Smith is from Australia, where her parents were up in the middle of the night to listen to the Elite Eight win over Notre Dame.
''At 3 a.m. or something. So mom and dad set an alarm,'' Smith said.
Smith's parents have made the 16-hour flight from Australia to be at the Final Four. Her dad told her at the start of the season that he was going to book the flight to Dallas.
''He actually booked the flight last week,'' she said.