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March 4, 2017

Dawn Staley

A'ja Wilson

Mikiah Herbert Harrigan

Greenville, South Carolina

South Carolina - 89, Kentucky - 77

THE MODERATOR: I'd like to welcome South Carolina.

Coach, if you could start out by giving us an opening statement, please.

COACH STALEY: We're happy to be back in the SEC tournament finals after playing a tough Kentucky team that took it to the wire. It was great to have Alaina Coates back even for a few minutes, but she will be out for the rest of the tournament.

THE MODERATOR: Questions for the student-athletes.

Q. A'ja, I want to talk about some of the defensive plays you made out there. You were in the paint, pressuring, had a lot of good blocks. Tell me, what was going on with the game plan.
A'JA WILSON: I mean, the game plan is really just stopping the ball from getting in the basket. I just try my best to be as many places as I can. Coach kind of says my defense sucks, but I try to show her that it doesn't suck. I'm not out there stealing a ball, but I'll get a hand on the ball when the shot goes up.

That's the game plan. We take it all in. The guards trust us we can send a defender into the post and handle business.

Q. You were up 14, then the lead was down to two. What wasn't happening or what was Kentucky doing well during that run?
A'JA WILSON: I just feel like basketball is a game of runs. Kentucky had their run. We was kind of slacking on the defensive end. On offense, the shots weren't going in. I think once we got back on track, back into the system, we started to see South Carolina basketball. That's when we started to take over the game.

Q. A'ja, it looked in the fourth quarter when Kentucky made that run that you turned the intensity up about five levels, wanted the ball. What were you thinking at that point?
A'JA WILSON: I was just thinking we got to win this ballgame. We weren't going to leave it till the game as won. I just take it all in, whether that's scheming at my teammates, at the and-one. Just keeping everybody uplifting. That was my main goal, my mindset.

Q. A'ja, can you explain a little bit how defenses focus on you when Alaina is in the game and when she's not in the game, the differences that you face.
A'JA WILSON: I think now with Lai being out, it is difficult. Everyone is sending two or three. When Lai is in the game, they might just send two.

I mean, it feels the same out there, it really does. It's just now I can't really lob it up unless Kiki is in. The defense does feel the same. I don't really feel a difference in it.

Q. Kiki, that first half you didn't miss. How good were you feeling out there in the first half, being in the flow of everything?
MIKIAH HERBERT HARRIGAN: It felt great. I mean, I was confident. That's pretty much it. I was just confident out there. It felt great.

Q. Is this the closest it's felt to a home court, being away from Columbia?
A'JA WILSON: Yes, most definitely. I remember playing defense one time, my ears were ringing. Gamecock fans are here.

It is a great feeling to see everybody head up here to Greenville and just support us.

Q. A'ja, if the starting lineup is the same tomorrow, especially with Alaina out, you'll be the only one of the starters that played in an SEC final before, is there anything special you'll tell the rest of your teammates about that experience?
A'JA WILSON: I mean, it's really nothing much I can tell them. They have a great understanding of what we do here at South Carolina, that's win the SEC championship. I think we're all going to take that in. I think we're going to go out there really confident, no matter who we play, execute the game plan.

It's nothing really much you can say at that point.

Q. A'ja, another kind of classic USC-Kentucky battle. How great is it not to have to face Makayla Epps any more?
A'JA WILSON: Definitely going to miss Makayla. The rivalry will continue on, whether there's Makayla or no Makayla. I will miss it, but it's still continued.

THE MODERATOR: Ladies, thank you.

We'll continue with questions for Coach Staley.

Q. Dawn, with Alaina, how comfortable did you feel putting her back in? Any update?
COACH STALEY: She just reaggravated. For a player that really hasn't been injured, I think psychologically every time she feels a little bit of pain, it sets her back two steps.

We're going to just allow her to know that she's not going to play, get herself ready for the NCAA tournament. She will be back for the NCAA tournament. We're just going to prep the players that are able-bodied to get ready to win another SEC tournament championship.

Q. Coach, I know I talked about this yesterday, asking you being here in Greenville, how it played. Today being a little different, having the stands completely full, nothing but Gamecock fans. Did the crowd play a big part in the momentum building, whether on the bench or out in the court that you noticed?
COACH STALEY: Truly, it created a home-court advantage for us. The way our fans came out and showed up in the stands, we heard them every step of the way. Whether we were up, whether we were down, whether Kentucky was making a run, it really energized us. It felt familiar to us.

When you have a backing like we have a backing, that wills you to a win, it's an incredible feeling. My hat goes off to Gamecock Nation. I hope we can bring more people to fill this place up to win another SEC tournament championship.

Q. Dawn, how good was it to see Kiki's play, especially in the first half? How have you seen her confidence grown maybe more in the past couple of games?
COACH STALEY: It's always a proud moment when you can see a player who had their ups and downs throughout the season, then you think they shut it down. But weeks ago, Kiki made a decision to give an extra effort, whether that's staying a little bit later with our strength and conditioning coach, getting shots up with our coaches, coming in and getting extra film sessions.

When those things are taking place, she's taking a vested interest in her career. It's going to go a long way because she's now having success. She sees what it feels like when you give a little bit extra.

When you give to this game, it becomes a gift that keeps on giving. Truly happy for her. She's got to continue to play at that level in order for us to continue to have the success that we're having.

Q. Can you talk about getting off to a great start, taking control of the game early?
COACH STALEY: I mean, we were really excited to get out here and play, once again. We got behind. The crowd was really loud and proud. When it's that type of atmosphere, your team can find the energy to get up and down the floor.

We got to find a way to sustain that, not allow teams to get back in the game, take things out of our control.

Q. What was Kentucky doing well? What weren't you doing well when they made that run to cut it to two?
COACH STALEY: Kentucky kept beating us to loose balls, hustle plays, getting out in transition, forcing the issue, like they normally do. For us, I thought we got a little bit stagnant. We were taking a little bit unexpected shots. We weren't putting them back on their heels, doing the things we did in the beginning of the game.

I thought when they came back, it got our attention. I think we focused in on rebounding the ball a little bit, coming up with some 50/50 balls, converted them to easy buckets.

Q. This is where you wanted to be now. What would winning another SEC title mean to you? What are you playing for tomorrow?
COACH STALEY: We're playing for our history, University of South Carolina's history. This is a place in which, if you have the talent to get here again, you got the team that can win it, why not?

I think it's an opportunity for us to continue to solidify us being one of the best teams in this conference. We couldn't be that without having the competition. I think we have the best conference in the country.

When you're able to get that exposure, it allows you to do some things that you haven't done in the history of your program, whether that's here or Mississippi State or Texas A&M. They've won an SEC tournament championship before.

When you play against stiff competition like we have in our league, you can make history. We want to continue to make history with our program.

Q. Whether it's the situation with A'ja, the situation with Kiki stepping up, how much have these injuries taught you about how flexible your lineup can be, led you to put some people in position you wouldn't have?
COACH STALEY: Again, I mean, we're a resilient group. It's led by our coaching staff. We don't fret who we don't have. We have to continue to move forward with who we have available to us. It doesn't mean that we don't care and love the injured ones.

But when it's such a quick turnaround, you got to prepare the ones that are ready. Our players really respond to that. They get themselves in the mindset of, Hey, maybe I'm going to get in today. Even player one, we're down to ten players at this point, I believe. We're down to ten. Everybody thinks they're going to play. It's added focus on their part.

We've had great practices, shooting rounds, film sessions. They all want to win.

Q. Coach, Ty Harris played a lot on Makayla, Kiki was on Evelyn down low. How much confidence do you have in those two freshmen defensively?
COACH STALEY: We're real confident. We don't have a choice at this point. We got to play them.

I think these are good learning experiences because although Makayla Epps is leaving us, there's going to be another Makayla Epps in our league. The fact that Ty and Kiki can get these experiences as freshmen, it's only going to help our program, help them gain some valuable experience.


COACH STALEY: Thank you.

FastScripts Transcript by ASAP Sports

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