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March 28, 2017

Dawn Staley

Dallas, Texas

RICK NIXON: Good afternoon and welcome to today's Women's Final Four head coaches media teleconference. For the next several minutes, you'll have the opportunity to visit with the head coach of the South Carolina Gamecocks, Dawn Staley.

South Carolina is playing in its second women's Final Four and pursuing its first national championship in 2017. I know Coach Staley and the Gamecocks just arrived here in Dallas. We'll bring in Dawn for some opening comments, then take your questions.

COACH STALEY: Well, we're super excited to be here in Dallas participating in our second Final Four of the history of our program. We beat some incredibly competitive teams to get here. Just grateful and thankful for the opportunity to play on the third week in the NCAA tournament.

RICK NIXON: Thanks so much, Dawn. We'll take questions at this time.

Q. Dawn, you had your first brush with Tara VanDerveer back at the 1990 Final Four when you were a player, and you played for her in the '96 Olympics. What is the difference between playing for Tara and playing against her?
COACH STALEY: Well, I mean, there isn't a whole lot of difference. You know that you're going to be well-prepared for any situation that you'll see in the game. Tara has taught me so much about the game as a player, that I still use the foundation of how I approach games from the days in which she taught me as an Olympian, the times we spent together.

The key is preparation. You need to always be able to put your teams in situations that they will be successful in, you know, not too much, not too little, but just holding players accountable for their end of the bargain to make dreams come true.

A dream came true for me when I played for Tara in the 1996 Olympic Games.

Q. I'm not sure, have you not beaten her as a player or coach competing against her? How big would that be in the big picture?
COACH STALEY: I'm o-fer. I'm part of the 1,000 wins that she has. I'm one of the defeated teams in that total win category. I mean, she's a hard win. She's been in these situations a number of times, and she definitely uses her experience against us.

We're hoping that Dallas brings us a little bit of different luck.

Q. Dawn, just wondering how your team has been able to withstand the loss of Alaina Coates. Has anybody in particular stepped up for your team during this time?
COACH STALEY: Well, how we've approached any adversity we've faced this season. We do it just like it's a kink in our armor. But we keep moving forward. We don't rest on, you know, people that we don't have. We don't rest on the laurels of not having the services of Alaina Coates. We knew we wouldn't have her, so we have to move on and figure out ways to capitalize on who we have.

I think Kaela Davis has been a beneficial of the void that Alaina Coates has left. It put her in a position where she gets the ball in her hands probably 50% more than she did when Coates was in the lineup.

Probably our entire perimeter players, because we've gone to a smaller lineup, and it's creating driving lanes. A'ja Wilson is able to block the block, work the entire paint area without feeling like she's on top Alaina and her defense.

Q. Dawn, I wanted to ask you, not just you and Tara being in the Final Four, but Geno, too, two past Olympic team coaches, you taking over that role, just the thread that's been there with the three of you, having that much of a prestigious role with USA Basketball, now all at the same Final Four.
COACH STALEY: I think it's great. Our USA Basketball family is back. I'm so happy to be in that number. We all have made sacrifices for the greater good of our sport. For us all to be here says we're doing things the right way.

We've given so much to the game, and the game in turn has been the greatest gift that keeps on giving. I want to be amongst greatness. This opportunity does that. I'm extremely happy.

I also want to be a national championship coach, just like the two of them.

Q. After you had the great game against Mississippi State in the regular season, battled with them in the SEC tournament, you sort of suggested you wouldn't be surprised to see Mississippi State make the Final Four. Now both of you guys are there. Can you comment on what that means to the SEC, to have two programs in the same year, two programs that are relative newcomers to this kind of stage?
COACH STALEY: Well, I think what the SEC does is it prepares you to play in NCAA play. You have so many different styles of play. You've been battle-tested in so many ways. When you face other competition, you feel familiarity.

You don't fret any situation. I think Vic has done a tremendous job with his players. He gets them to play on the biggest stage. I'm not surprised that he's here. To watch them play, to watch what they've done in the tournament thus far, you know, I hope we've all prepared him to face UConn and give them a good go at it.

I think they have all the key ingredients to make the SEC proud on Friday night.

Q. You do have a couple players who have the Final Four experience with Bianca and A'ja. A'ja played very well in her Final Four two years ago. Does that help a little that they've been through this before?
COACH STALEY: It helps, yeah, when you have experience at the Final Four. We feel different as a coaching staff. We feel better prepared to know what is expected.

We enjoyed it two years ago. We absolutely did. Was it a business trip? It absolutely was. But when it's your first time, you know, you're seeing all the different moving parts, and you're trying to fit all of it in to make it work.

Whereas now, we know what to expect. Although we're going to enjoy it, we're going to be better prepared for our players and our program, especially the ones that haven't experienced it.

It's a business trip, but it's one we're going to enjoy every step of the way.

Q. Dawn, I was wondering how your team has come up physically with all the travel, going to the West Coast, now to Dallas. Does it help going straight from California to Dallas instead of coming home first?
COACH STALEY: You know, we went out to California on Wednesday, last Wednesday. That extra day really helped us acclimate and adjust to Pacific time. We just didn't think it was feasible to go back to Columbia and Dallas without us feeling another time change.

Our staff did a great job at just coordinating us, taking care of business in Stockton, making sure we were okay to seamlessly win the regional and then come right from California to Dallas.

There's no sweat off our brow. We want to be here. This is what we worked so hard for all season long. We probably would have gone to the moon and back if it was necessary for us to participate in the Final Four.

Q. Dawn, I wanted to kind of get your mental thoughts right now. Last year you had a great run. As a coach, what do you think you might change this year preparing for it now, because you have the experience?
COACH STALEY: Well, I think, you know, practice times. It's a shorter week. It's hard to prepare. It was an open practice last year. It's not an open practice this year. We just get a chance to do all of our preparations at the arena. We don't have to go to another gym.

At this time of the year, rest is equally as important as preparation is. Sometimes that preparation, we'll be watching film and preparing in that way, just communicating and talking about some things, as opposed to always being on the court. That's probably the biggest adjustment that we'll make.

Q. For the two veterans you have returning with experience already, what would you tell them to prepare the other girls who haven't been there yet? How would you tell them how to lead them for this next game coming up?
COACH STALEY: Well, you lean on them. A'ja Wilson and Bianca Cuevas both have Final Four experience. What they're doing is they're leading them. But the most important thing is our kids have stayed the course, stayed in character. We're going to enjoy this. When it's time to prep, we'll prep. We'll prep like any other regular-season game. Probably over half of our team never participated in the SEC tournament, as well. So we'll take that same approach, that same tournament approach, stay the course, and keep it as normal as possible so we can perform on Friday night.

Q. Dawn, we have an WNBA team here now. You played in Houston back in the day. Have you heard from some of your former colleagues that you played basketball throughout the years? Do they reach out to you and let you know how well you're doing?
COACH STALEY: I mean, I think nowadays people use Twitter to communicate and social media to communicate. My Twitter timeline is blown up. I got to go through to make sure that I didn't miss anybody.

DeLisha Milton is probably the one that reached out through text messaging. But it's been unreal, the amount of support throughout the season, not just getting here to the Final Four, but just the season, how our basketball family has reached out and supported us from afar.

Q. As you look back over your life, we have to reflect on the man who encouraged you, and that's the late Dave O'Brien at Temple. You're writing history right now because you're giving our African American young people not only the chance to play the game, but now you're coaching. How do you feel about making history and the possibility of winning a national championship and the Final Four?
COACH STALEY: I think what's taking place is quite incredible. I give all the glory to God. Obviously I'm a vessel in all of this, and just appreciative that He gave me a profession in which I can be a dream merchant for other kids and other people.

I'm just really grateful for the opportunity to do that because the game of basketball has been incredibly giving to me. I feel like I owe it, I got to repay the debt, for what it's given me. What better way to do that than help young people realize their dreams through the sport.

Q. Dawn, what do you think Stanford does best? What do you have to do to combat what they do best?
COACH STALEY: Stanford is very disciplined. They are a team in which they do a great job of reading defenses and offenses. They make you go a little deeper in what you're trying to accomplish. They make you go through options, you know, three, four and five instead of one and two. That's hard for teams which aren't organized, don't have great guard play.

For us, they'll be a challenge for us, but we also have seen a lot of basketball. We've seen a lot of different looks this particular year. Hopefully we'll draw on our experiences of playing in the SEC, of playing the four games we played in the NCAA tournament this year, to our advantage, in a stingy team like the Stanford Cardinal.

Q. Dawn, the way A'ja has been able to carry the load she has. It put more load than ever on her with Alaina out. Talk about how well she's responded. Then does Stanford -- are they a little bit harder to guard or figure out because they don't really have a star? They're really a complete team. You don't know who is going to hurt you on a given night.
COACH STALEY: Uh-huh, I'll answer the A'ja question.

A'ja, I'm super proud to watch her leadership. Obviously I know what she can do as far as being a stat filler. But the way she's taken on the leadership role, it has been quite remarkable.

When teams are dealt any type of adversity, people step up. People fill a void. Although A'ja was our leader before Alaina's injury, she's taken it to another level. To see a young person do that, I'm proud. I'm proud. That's why I'm always politicking for her being the national Player of the Year because of these circumstances that our team has experienced this year. Not just the wins and the losses and the points and the rebounds and the blocks, but a national Player of the Year. They don't let their team lose, no matter what adversity they're dealt with.

A'ja has been dealt a great deal of it this year, her injury, losing Alaina Coates, having three different starting guards. She still has been able to perform at a high level.

Then the Stanford question. They are hard to guard. Yes, they have a lot of moving parts to what they do. Any one person can get hot on their team. But they got the key ingredient to beating you. If you don't have a star, star player, you do it by committee. When you do it by committee, you have to play each committee member, you have to give them their own space. You don't have to double-team any one person, but you do have to prep for them top to bottom.

It creates a longer scouting report and more information that our players have to remember and execute.

RICK NIXON: Dawn, really appreciate you jumping on. Welcome to Dallas. We look forward to seeing you this weekend.

COACH STALEY: Thank you so much.

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