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March 5, 2017

Dawn Staley

Kaela Davis

A'ja Wilson

Greenville, South Carolina

South Carolina - 59, Mississippi State - 49

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

Congratulations, coach. Why don't you start us off with an opening statement, please.

COACH STALEY: I just want to say it was a great atmosphere. We beat a tremendous basketball team in Mississippi State Bulldogs. I thought it could have gone either way.

I felt like our players, when it was time to step up, stepped up in a big way, you know, to get us this victory in an incredible atmosphere.

THE MODERATOR: Questions for the student-athletes, please.

Q. A'ja, once again you played real big in defense with the defensive rebounds down in the paint. Talk about, especially in the fourth quarter, how was it getting down out there.
A'JA WILSON: Just during the timeout, coach pointed at her chest, it means heart. That's what it comes down to. Great talent on both teams. In a championship game, it comes down to who wants it more. We came out with a lot of heart and energy.

Q. A'ja, with that fourth quarter, you're down five, what did you talk about in the huddle? Was the game plan to get it to you?
A'JA WILSON: I don't think that was the game plan necessarily. We just kind of stuck to our system. We didn't really let up. We didn't really doubt ourselves. We just made sure that we just had good support around us. We really just came out, like I said, with a lot of heart. We knew we had to trust the process, trust each other were the biggest things.

Q. Kaela, your point total increases with each game. Tell me about how your confidence soared from game to game.
KAELA DAVIS: I think the stakes got a little bit higher with each game as well. I think that's just part of it. Obviously the competition increases as you get deeper and deeper into any tournament.

You've just got to be ready to play. With Alaina out, we have to compensate for that and fill that hole.

Q. Kaela, you were down going into the fourth quarter. You hit that three right away. Seemed like the entire momentum of the game switched. What was your viewpoint on what happened there?
KAELA DAVIS: I don't know. I think my biggest thing I did, I got a stupid third foul. I just find made sure I was ready to go back in and make an impact.

Glad that turned into an eight-point swing and we could kind of get the momentum shifted our way.

Q. Both players. The crowd really got into the game in the fourth quarter. It seemed like your defense fed off the crowd.
A'JA WILSON: Yeah. I mean, we have amazing fans. They are real loyal out there. You hear them roaring, our ears ringing, and it gets your blood flowing. Gets you into defense. We give it all to them.

Q. Kaela, some of these other guys have been through this before. For you, what did it feel like to get out there on the court celebrating the championship?
KAELA DAVIS: It's amazing. There's really no feeling like it to know that we faced a lot of adversity this year. To know through our conference play, we've had to deal with a lot. We found a way to just fight through it, be better because of it.

Like I said, there's no feeling. Can't match it.

Q. Did this win and the way you played recently just mark you as a team to be reckoned with in the NCAA tournament?
A'JA WILSON: Yeah, most definitely. I think we really showed ourselves. We showed a good picture of what we do, how we are here at South Carolina. So, yes, I do.

Q. Kaela, seems like ever since the Missouri game, you have gotten more confident in your game. How much does that game impact your thinking or does it?
KAELA DAVIS: Sure. I mean, I hate to lose. No one likes losing. I think in my head personally, I knew I didn't want to feel that again. I shot the ball horribly at Missouri. That was just something that, like I said, I stuck that in the back of my head and just tried to carry it with me.

Q. A'ja, if my history is right, you're only the second program to win three SEC tournaments in a row. Tennessee has done it twice. I know part of what you've done here is sort of historical. You've wanted to make that mark. What does this particular accomplishment mean?
A'JA WILSON: It means a lot, it really does. When you look at it, Tennessee was the powerhouse of the SEC of the just to really see how Coach Staley and her coaching staff really turned this program around, it really does mean a lot. Just being a part of the legacy that we're going to leave when we leave here just really means a lot.

Q. A'ja, you were matched up most of the game against McCowan. That was a battle. What happened in the fourth quarter? You seemed to get an edge?
A'JA WILSON: That was a battle, correct. I haven't felt nothing like that in a while.

She's a great player. She really is. She kind of gave me a different look that I haven't seen throughout the tournament. It was kind of difficult to get around her because she's big. She's right up there with me.

But my teammates keep feeding me the ball. I kind of found a way.

Q. A'ja, what does it mean to you to get to win an SEC championship in your home state of South Carolina?
A'JA WILSON: I can't even put that into words. It means a lot. Just from the day that I committed to South Carolina, I knew it was going to be something special.

But just the way that everything is turning out really does mean a lot. The fact that I'm kind of home, it means -- I can't even put into words how amazing this feeling really is.

Q. You don't really have a lot of people leaving. I know you still have a lot of the season left with the NCAA. In terms of competing in the SEC, how do you think you can grow from here in the following season?
KAELA DAVIS: I mean, like you said, right now we're focused on the tournament. That's our biggest focus, getting prepared for that. Part of that is just kind of taking the momentum of the tournament with us.

But all year, this whole year we've been saying it's a process. We're trying to figure it out, where shots are coming from, how certain things are going to happen.

I think it's all coming together at the right time. We're trying to keep that train rolling.

THE MODERATOR: Ladies, thank you.

We'll continue with questions for Coach Staley.

Q. Dawn, how much of a focus was it to target A'ja in the fourth quarter, get her the ball?
COACH STALEY: She was a target because we felt like she would be able to take the big girl, Teaira, off the bounce. But she's big. I thought A'ja sometimes settled for little midrange jumpers. When she was able to get inside, go off the bounce, good things happened.

We couldn't get that, we played off of that. I thought we just did a great job in moving the ball and scoring when the play was broken. Kaela got a three. Ty got a wide-open three. Allisha knocked down a shot. We were pretty good at playing off of not getting our first option. A lot of times in these settings and moving forward, people are going to take your first and second options away. You have to be organized when those plays break down to get good shots.

Q. Over the summer, the biggest thing we were happy about is the tournament in Greenville. Now you sit here as the champions. Does this one in particular make it any more special with the thousands of fans here to support you and the momentum?
COACH STALEY: I think it's only fitting. We have the best fans in the country. They come out and support us at home and on the road. To put it in a place in which they can drive up and come, they showed out. They created an atmosphere like they do in our home arena, Colonial Life Arena.

When you can pile the fans in here, create that experience, not only for our team, but it looks good on TV. I think Mississippi State wouldn't mind playing in this kind of environment versus an empty gym.

Overall, I think it was a great experience by us all. Obviously we're a little biased because they came to support our basketball team, but they do have a really good appreciation for good basketball.

Q. It's 50-49, Ty hits the three. Mississippi State doesn't score again. Talk about how big that bucket was.
COACH STALEY: It was huge. She had her feet under her. She knew she was going to take the shot. It felt good to her. When she released it, she knew it was going in.

I think the momentum, the crowd got into it. It helped us gain some valuable energy that we needed to finish the game off.

Q. Dawn, having to be a little resourceful against a really good team like that, do you think that kind of experience for your players will help down the line in the NCAA tournament?
COACH STALEY: Not having Alaina Coates makes you do a lot of different things. You have to make adjustments because there's a huge void left, not just this year, but she's been a mainstay for us for the past four years. She's been a big part of our program.

But our players are truly resilient. They want to do anything they can do to help our team win. That's growth that's taken place over the entire year. Some of them, it wasn't comfortable playing out of their position. Some of them really wanted to concentrate on doing one position well.

Now that they see we're in an adverse situation, they open their minds, their skill sets, to play in other positions. We're finding that it's good basketball for us.

Q. Dawn, with all the success of the past four years, how much do you still think about your first year at USC and the struggles that you had early?
COACH STALEY: I'm driven by those first few years being at South Carolina. It's a thing that fuels me every single day. They didn't feel good. Although winning, it does feel good, but you do have to look back on where this program has come from and use those days, you know, to make you continue to work and not go backwards.

Just truly proud of our coaching staff, our support staff, our players, our fans, our administrators. Everybody has been a big part of allowing us to be successful.

Q. How much do you think the way you guys have played since UConn down the stretch here has reinforced the thought that you guys are a threat in the NCAA tournament? Do you feel you can be out there with just about anybody?
COACH STALEY: Well, I feel like we can be out there. I don't know if the basketball experts feel like that. We're not one of the programs that they talk about when it comes to competing for a national championship, nor are our players talked about in a national spotlight.

A'ja Wilson is the best player in the country. Let's just get that out there. She is the best player in the country. If you look at her numbers when we're playing ranked teams, I don't think any numbers compare to what she does.

We're going to keep flying under the radar. We're going to keep getting better. We are going to keep making the most of the opportunities that we have. Wherever we're sent, we're going to continue to play and use the experiences of playing in the SEC to our advantage.

Q. Talk a little bit about defensively holding a team to only four points in the fourth quarter. They didn't even attempt a free throw in the fourth quarter playing good defense.
COACH STALEY: I think one of the last timeouts we had, the fourth quarter timeout, I told our players that we need to make adjustments to the officiating. It's not saying that they're bad or anything. If they're going to call a certain way, we must correct what we're doing. We're going to play proper defense.

Slide over when we need to slide over, help each other out, communicate, play with our hearts and our heads. They took that to heart. They executed out there on the floor. They held a team that can score a lot of points in bunches. I don't know if that's a season low, but it's got to be close to a season low, especially with the type of players that they have.

Q. Looking at some of the previous records, your last five meetings against Mississippi State were all victories, your record against them is 9-3. Did that previous success help going into this game or was this like the first game?
COACH STALEY: What took place even in I think it was January didn't enter into our minds as far as us winning. A lot of people put a question mark on that win with calls late down the stretch.

But we knew coming into this game, it's going to be a knock-out, drag-out. We knew they were fighting to get their program a first championship. We know they're a very good basketball team, very seasoned. They play together and well all season long. For the past couple years, they got a nice, experienced group.

We knew that coming into this game, we were going to have to give a 40-minute effort, execute on both sides of the ball. We were probably going to have to beat them at a low-scoring game because they defend well. We needed to do certain things.

I was proud of our effort. I look at the stat sheet. We were down in rebounding the whole night. Then we end up beating them in rebounding. Kudos to our players who barreled down and got the win.


COACH STALEY: Thank you.

FastScripts Transcript by ASAP Sports

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