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March 29, 2015

Alaina Coates

Tiffany Mitchell

Dawn Staley


South Carolina – 80
Florida State - 74

COACH STALEY:  I'd like to just say Florida State really gave us a tough match.  They were there to the very end.  They were opponents in which we felt like matched up pretty well against us and they took us to the wire.  Fortunately for us, we got players like Tiffany Mitchell and Alaina Coates that made plays for us down the stretch and got us this incredible win.

Q.  What was that moment like when the final buzzer sounded what was going through your head?
TIFFANY MITCHELL:  Just full of excitement pretty much.  It's just great to finally take this program to a Final Four.  It's really fun to be able to enjoy this moment with our team.
ALAINA COATES:  I couldn't really think.  I was just running back trying to find somebody to pick up.  Just a lot of excitement and just really glad we were able to come up with the win.

Q.  Tiffany, again, especially after yesterday, you kind of took over late.  Is that something you felt you had to do?  Did Dawn tell you to take the ball?
TIFFANY MITCHELL:  I just think me and Coach Staley have a nonverbal communication.  I just look at her and she looks at me and I'm just like, all right, it's time.  That's kind of what happened.  Just made plays for my team when I needed to.

Q.  Alaina, you were named the Most Outstanding Player of the Greensboro Regional.  Do you feel like you're playing the best basketball of your college career over the course of these past few tweaks?
ALAINA COATES:  I feel like I'm playing better basketball.  There's always room for improvement.  I know during the regular season it didn't turn out as great for me as I wanted it to, so I just want to be able to do more for my team and for myself coming into the postseason.

Q.  There were a couple of older players out on the floor, Courtney Newton and Markeshia Grant, how much did it mean to you to help see the players that helped build this be here for this moment and for you to give that to them?
TIFFANY MITCHELL:  It means a lot that they still support us even though they have graduated years before.  It just means a lot how they come back and cheer us on even though they graduated.

Q.  Big three‑pointer with about a minute left.  You had only made one to that point; any hesitation that that was the shot at that time?  Take us through it.
TIFFANY MITCHELL:  I mean, we just ran the same play pretty much three times in a row.  And I knew the first two times I went to the basket, they were playing off me, and I just had enough space and I shot it.

Q.  You talked about finally making it.  What do you think has tipped it to get you to the Final Four for the first time after last year, not getting there?  Is it experience?  Is it new players?  What's the difference?
TIFFANY MITCHELL:  Yeah, I think it's a little bit of both.  We have enough experience on this team and just to mix in some of our youth, I think that helps us just because we are so deep.  I think last year, we didn't have enough to get us over that Sweet16 hump and this year, I think we are so much deeper.  That's what helped us in these past few games.

Q.  For either of you, when things weren't going your way, was there a moment where you felt the momentum change?
TIFFANY MITCHELL:  I just knew we were always in the game.  We've played behind plenty of times, so we never doubted for a second that we were going to lose this game, and that's the mentality you need playing against such a great team in Florida State.

Q.  You've played in two straight down‑to‑the‑wire games.  What is it about your team, this team this year, that you're able to kind of stay poised and end up coming out on the winning end?
TIFFANY MITCHELL:  For me or Alaina?  Both of us?  Can you repeat the question?

Q.  What is it about this year's team that you can come out on top?
COACH STALEY:  Welcome to my world (laughter).
TIFFANY MITCHELL:  Like I said, we just had enough‑‑ we knew we had enough this whole tournament.  I think our bench is a lot better than Florida State's and it showed today.
ALAINA COATES:  Just to piggyback off what she said, yeah, we all just knew that once we hit the floor, that we had to go out there and make an impact.

Q.  Alaina, you said the regular season maybe didn't go as well as you wanted it to.  What does it mean to you person will I to win most outstanding player?
ALAINA COATES:  It just means a lot knowing that my hard work paid off; knowing that I was able to go out there and contribute to what my team was doing in a big way like that.  It means a lot.

Q.  Tiffany and Alaina, wanted to hear from both of you about the fans.  I think there were more fans here today than yesterday, and I don't know how much you hear them on the court.  I know they were loud the other day, but what did it mean to both of you individually?
TIFFANY MITCHELL:  It just means a lot just knowing that our fans will travel and support us anywhere we're at.  They definitely created home‑court advantage for us and it seemed like a regular home game.  It was really loud.  It was probably louder than Colonial, than it usually is as Colonial.  I think it played a huge part on our comeback when we were losing and us getting over that hump and finally taking that lead.
ALAINA COATES:  Just kind of piggybacking, our fans play a big role in what we do.  We feed off their energy.  They pick us up when we're down.  They keep us up when we're ahead.  They are the ones that they support us no matter what.  They will follow us pretty much anywhere.  It's a great feeling, we just go out and do what we do for them.

Q.  For both of you, throughout this tournament, have you looked at some of the other teams that you can potentially play, Notre Dame or Baylor on Sunday, and UCONN is in the other bracket.  Have you started to look at potential opponents?
ALAINA COATES:  I mean, the games, we watched them but we were too focused on handling what we needed to handle in Greensboro first.
TIFFANY MITCHELL:  Pretty much just taking it one day at a time.  We are looking at our next opponent.  We are not looking too far ahead.  Like today we were focused on FSU, and now we are going to be focused on whoever wins out of Baylor and Notre Dame.

Q.  Alaina, what's it like when you're up on the ladder cutting down that net?  Is that a surreal moment?
ALAINA COATES:  Yeah, it feels good.  I remember last night watching Kentucky's men do it and thinking that could be us tomorrow, tomorrow afternoon.  To actually be in this moment and experience this means a lot.
TIFFANY MITCHELL:  Just how the game went and just having to fight and get down to the final buzzer and things like that, just knowing that we had to fight really hard and we came up with a win; it just made it a really great feeling.

Q.  Either player or both, looking ahead, not so much who you're playing, but if you look back to your game against Connecticut, did you learn something in that sort of environment that's going to help you in Tampa, and how do you stay poised when you're the new guys on the block down there?  All the other teams are going to have a lot more experience in this environment than you.
TIFFANY MITCHELL:  I think that's going to play into our advantage being that we are the new kids on the block in the Final Four.  I think that puts more pressure on them.  We are just going out there and we are playing, so I think that puts more pressure to say you've been there already.  Just go out there with a level head and compete.
I think the Connecticut game did help us because there's another level of basketball out there and we are starting to realize that, and we are playing pretty about basketball right now.

Q.  What was going through your mind when that final buzzer sounded?
COACH STALEY:  I wanted it over, as quickly as possible.  I just wanted to embrace our coaches because they have worked so hard.  This is something that we have wanted to do as a staff for a very long time, probably long before we got to South Carolina.  And to be able to enjoy this moment with them, it's pretty special.  They work hard.  They put us in a position to achieve this type of success, and we wanted to just enjoy the moment.

Q.  Seven years ago, you win ten games; did you think that this would be possible?  Did you still have this goal in mind?
COACH STALEY:  The goal is always in mind, whether or not we have the pieces in place to accomplish those goals are a different story.  I think with each year, you gain a little confidence because we play in the best conference in the country, and our conference prepares us for games like this where they go down to the wire, where they are physical and where you're able to maneuver and try to out‑fox whatever our opponents will give us.
But it's always been in mind.  It's just we've got some pieces that will allow us to compete at this level and go into the Final Four and have a legitimate shot at winning.

Q.  A few weeks ago it seemed like Bianca was maybe struggling a little bit with confidence; how did she overcome that to have her biggest?
COACH STALEY:  Bianca is a competitor:  Whether she is flying around the court, whether she's having great games or not‑so‑great games, she's a competitor.  You want in those situations‑‑ I felt like we would have an advantage with her on the floor, just her quickness, her ability to put Florida State back on their heels.  You know, that's why we went with her pretty early.
In the second half when it was getting down to the wire, we felt like we wanted our experience down there.  But she doesn't lack confidence, at all, no matter what situation she's in, and I think she's at a point where she's understanding the process a little bit better.  She's aware of her surroundings and what she needs to work on to improve.
But still, even if she doesn't play a minute; if she plays 12 minutes, you know she's always going to be a threat on the floor.

Q.  You called Tiffany Mitchell Superwoman on Friday, and with the game tied 67‑67 she scored the next seven points.  Was there any doubt in your mind that she would be the player to step it up down the stretch?
COACH STALEY:  Well, I had no doubt.  We are probably‑‑ this is a monumental win for us; we'll probably rename that play because we ran it a few times down the stretch.  We ran it on Friday night.  We'll rename that Mitch in on honor of her, because she hit big buckets for her.  I had no doubt, no doubt where the ball was going, even though Alaina Coates was having a pretty good second half.  But Tiffany Mitchell is the person we want the ball in her hands when we need a basket.

Q.  What was the name of that play beforehand?
COACH STALEY:  We got more games to play (laughter).

Q.  Are you able to let this sink in?  You've been through is this as a player.  Is it all relatable?
COACH STALEY:  It's much different as a coach than a player.  Because as a coach, you reflect on all the former players; you reflect on all the bad seasons; you reflect on the good seasons; you reflect on what basketball really means to you.  And for me, it's all I had.  It's been my passion, my livelihood and I think as a coaching staff, we came to South Carolina because we felt like we can get here at South Carolina with the conference, just when we got to South Carolina, the players that were local.  And with the coaching staff that, you know, has coached or played at the very highest level.
So it's a great moment because it is shared by so many people across so many teams.  I think back to my coaching at Temple University, this is the dream that we sold them on; come to Temple and you'll win a National Championship.
Now it's come to South Carolina; you'll win a National Championship.  You'll go to Final Fours.  It makes it all make sense.  Now we have some credibility to what we're saying and what we're selling, our program, our university.

Q.  I've heard some people say this was a statement game.  What was the statement your team made tonight and what factor was the fans?
COACH STALEY:  This game is always a tough hurdle, because it's coming down to the wire, you're playing against some of the country's best opponents, and you know, you don't know a whole lot about them.  You try to crunch up a whole season in two nights of work, getting a scouting report together.
It is; it puts South Carolina on the map.  Now I think the regular season that we had, the success that we've had in our conference; but when you hurdle over being a regional champion and going to the Final Four, it puts your name in history.
So it's a history‑making game for us, but‑‑ and I said this before.  Any National Championship team, any champion in any sport, they have fans.  They have people who come watch them play and cheer them on and they find a way to create a home‑court advantage no matter where they are, and our fans have done that for us all season long.
It does my heart good to know that when you walk out there, all the chants you hear is Gamecocks, and it's a beautiful thing.  Really, I couldn't write a better script for our season, for the community, and how they embraced our basketball team.  It's a beautiful thing that I'll always cherish, especially being in the State of South Carolina.

Q.  Is there a step that you have to take from being a great team to being a champion team?  If so, is this team ready to take that step down in Tampa, or do you not know yet?
COACH STALEY:  Well, I'll tell you this:  We are not just going to show up and just be happy to be there.  This particular regional final game isn't the destination game for what we set out to do this season. 
So, you know, I think this was a statement game because we are going to ‑‑ we punched our ticket into the Final Four, and now it's time to maybe check off some things that we've wanted to do, which is win the National Championship.
How we get over that is we show up on Sunday‑‑ I don't know, Sunday night or Sunday afternoon, ready to play whoever wins the Notre Dame and Baylor game.

Q.  What were your thoughts on your team's performance for about the first 15 minutes of the first half and how were you able to overcome the early turnovers and miscues?
COACH STALEY:  For us, I think we have taken opponents's punch in the first ten to 15 minutes of probably each game that we've played.  So it was no different.  I think sometimes our players, they want to make an impact.  They want to make an impact so bad that sometimes it's not the right decision.
We just wanted our players poised and calm and not get ahead of the game.  Just take each possession as it is and try to figure out what's the best shot to take out there, what's the best defensive assignment to execute.
But I just felt we were in a good place, even though we were down.  It was familiar territory, so we didn't panic.  We just had to let the game settle in.

Q.  Speaking of stepping up in the moment, Alaina Coates, talk about her performance on the week end.
COACH STALEY:  She was fantastic.  Alaina, you know, just it clicked for her.  It clicked for her in postseason play where I think she just realized how talented she is, and when she puts her mind to doing something, it works for her.  I think there wasn't any doubt that she could be the best player on the floor when she puts her mind to it.  And she definitely was a key component of us getting to this point.

Q.  Tiffany Mitchell played every minute, 21 points, six rebounds, five assists.  What's it like for you to watch her?
COACH STALEY:  It's become pretty common.  We're going to go to Tiffany Mitchell for as long as she can run up and down the floor.  She is a well‑conditioned athlete.  She could probably play another game and have the same type of performance.
It was really hard for us to take her off the floor for what she means to us on both sides of the ball.  She defended like no other.  She chased Conwright around all night long, and then when it was time, when the game was on the line and we put her on Romero, and I thought that was probably a great call.  And I think Coach Boyer thought that was a pretty good matchup down the stretch and I think it was a difference maker.

Q.  A week ago, Alaina said she thought she simmered down her sophomore compared to her freshman year.  Do you think she's being a little harsh on herself with that statement?
COACH STALEY:  Not at all.  I think what we have to understand, as freshmen, especially being a student athlete, it is the biggest transition of your life:  Socially things change; academically things change; athletically things change.
When you take her out of her normal environment, these things are crashing together at once and then we're asking her to perform on a nightly basis to help us win a National Championship with all the other things that she has to deal with, it's hard.
And things, as you get older, your sophomore year, things just start clearing up for you.  You have your junior year, senior year.  It should be just putting on an old shoe and you should be helping other people deal with that.  So things are clearing up for her from a basketball standpoint, and you're seeing the benefits of her seeing it a little bit differently.

FastScripts Transcript by ASAP Sports

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