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March 30, 2017

Kaela Davis

Dawn Staley

A'ja Wilson

Dallas, Texas

THE MODERATOR: Joining us now is South Carolina.

We'll take an opening statement from Coach Staley, then take some questions.

COACH STALEY: We're excited to be here, playing in the third weekend of the NCAA tournament. Look forward to the challenges that lie ahead of us.

THE MODERATOR: Questions for the student-athletes.

Q. Kaela, all season long you've been most efficient on the spot-up shooting. Obviously your game has had to evolve beyond that here in the NCAA tournament. What do you see in that growth? What area has been most effective for you during the NCAA tournament?
KAELA DAVIS: I think it's just been attacking the paint, being aggressive, not just settling for jump shots, just kind of looking past that first defender, and, like I said, trying to get points in the paint.

Q. A'ja, you're from South Carolina. You know all the great things about the state, some of the not-so-great things. What do you think it's like to have two minority head coaches representing this state and the school in the Final Four, be such good representatives for the state and the school?
A'JA WILSON: I think it's a great thing. Like you said, I'm from South Carolina. Just to see the two coaches really come up and really change the program, build our school, bring something so positive back home, to the state of South Carolina, is always a great thing.

I love this feeling. I love this sight I'm seeing. The sky's the limit for both of these programs.

Q. A'ja, you were here a couple years ago in the Final Four. What did you learn from that experience as one of the veterans of the team, and what have you told the younger ones who have not been here before?
A'JA WILSON: I've learned that it is just a different feeling, it really is. I mean, when you got to play, you don't know if the next game is guaranteed, you don't take anything for granted.

That's something I really want to tell my teammates. 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. It's not a good feeling.

I want to try my best to kind of get this team to not have that feeling, want to have the opposite feeling of what I felt. It's something that I've tried to make them aware of. I'm pretty sure they all know you can't really take this game of basketball for granted.

Q. For any of the three players (laughter). So for the two players, what is the easiest thing from what you've seen in scouting Stanford now, and what will be the most difficult thing?
KAELA DAVIS: I mean, I think, honestly, it's the Final Four. I don't really think there's anything easy. I think we just have to play our game, honestly. Stanford, they're playing really, really, really well right now. I think, what was it, 80 assists on 105 field goals is what they're doing in the tournament now. That's crazy.

They're sharing the ball, shooting the ball well. They're getting scoring from a lot of different players, production from a lot of different players.

You know, we've been playing really well on the defensive end. I think that's something we're definitely going to have to continue.

A'JA WILSON: Yeah, just really going off of that. Don't really have much to add (smiling).

Q. A'ja, South Carolina has made its bones on the defensive end of things. Do you think your offensive versatility is something that maybe sometimes gets overlooked? Do you feel like you're able to change the perception of South Carolina offensively with what you're able to do on the floor?
A'JA WILSON: I don't know, honestly. I think we all have different styles of game. I think we all adjust to our system. That's what makes our system so great.

I really wouldn't say that my offense really gets overlooked, honestly. I think I just kind of play my role. That's something we've all done on this team.

I honestly wouldn't say it gets overlooked.

Q. For both players. What would you say was the most difficult moment for you this season, and how did you and/or your team overcome it?
KAELA DAVIS: That's a really good question. Most difficult moment?

I mean, I think, you know, any of the losses that we had this season were all difficult. I mean, I think obviously starting off with Duke, I think that hit us pretty hard.

I think we've found a way to learn from each one of those experiences and to not just take them as losses, take them as lessons, as well.

I think we've just found a way to, you know, take a little bit of adversity, you know, just come back from it.

A'JA WILSON: Yeah, I was going to say, the losses that we kind of overcame throughout this season.

Q. For both players. What is one thing specifically that Coach Staley has done for you to help you improve your game this season?
KAELA DAVIS: There's a ton of things. But, you know, coming in, for me, it was really just on the defensive end, just kind of staying engaged, staying locked in with whatever we're doing, whatever's going on.

For me, I think it's just been a way to not only be effective offensively but, you know, be an overall player and be effective defensively as well. Especially when I had a little lull there, offensively I wasn't doing great, I had to find a way to stay on the floor and be productive while I was there.

A'JA WILSON: I don't think I can actually, like, pinpoint how much she's really helped me with my game, honestly. She's helped me all around, whether it's mentally, physically, emotionally throughout. Just taking the game in, just knowing...

What do you always say? When you give something to the game, the game always gives it back to you.

COACH STALEY: The game is a gift.

A'JA WILSON: Yeah, the game is a gift. You get what you put in. It's going to return what they think you deserve.

THE MODERATOR: Thank you, ladies. We will dismiss the student-athletes back to the locker room.

We will continue with questions for Coach Staley.

Q. Dawn, when you played for Tara in the Olympics in '96, did you appreciate then what you appreciate about her now as a coach?
COACH STALEY: I do. '96, that entire year, just opened my eyes to seeing basketball coached and played at a different level. The amount of pressure that was on our team, on Tara, she made us feel all of the pressure that was on her. She didn't want the team to fail.

I feel like from my experiences with her, she taught me how to approach the game, how to approach pressure situations, and how to execute while being under that amount of pressure.

Q. Dawn, I know you've been to Final Fours as a coach. When you look back at your time as a player, is there still experiences from that Final Four that you still draw on, maybe you try to give to your players? Also, as part of that Final Four, your team played Tara twice on the way to their two championships, and you faced Geno in his first Final Four appearance. Did you pay much attention to that at that point?
COACH STALEY: I didn't pay much attention to the coaching when I was playing. You know, 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.

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.

Q. Coach, there's been a lot of talk, Adam Silver, the NBA commissioner, talking about maybe a women's coach in the NBA. What do you think it's going to take to have either a women's coach coach a men's team in college or at the NBA level?
COACH STALEY: Opportunity. Opportunity. Basketball is basketball. It doesn't have a gender. It has a mind. It has an approach. It has a willingness. Given the opportunity, women can excel in this game. As you can see. Becky Hammon is doing a great job. You need more people like Coach Popovich to give them opportunities to learn, to grow, and to embrace it.

I don't think he sees gender. I think he sees someone that has a great basketball mind, that's tireless. Once you're given that opportunity, you see great things come out of it.

Q. Other coaches, do you communicate with them? You don't have to say their names. Do they share words of encouragement for you? And how did you get the name Miss Magic growing up?
COACH STALEY: I mean, I talk to other coaches, definitely. If you're in this game long enough, you want to create an edge, no matter where you are. You do it through your network of friends, coaching, to figure out how you can make your team better. We often do that.

As far as Magic, you know, growing up in Philly, I like to say that my game was probably more open court and more flashy than your regular, average player. I like to pass the ball. Magic was the best to do it.

Q. Philosophically, when Coates went down, how did you and your coaching staff approach what you were going to do afterwards? It was interesting to hear Tara VanDerveer talk about how you may actually be a tougher team to guard right now because the ball is spread more, seems like there's more avenues for you to attack offensively.
COACH STALEY: When Coates went down, obviously we were concerned. She's someone that has contributed to our program for the last four years. She's gotten us SEC Championships, both regular season and tournament championships. She's got us to the Final Four.

You exhale for a second because you feel bad for her. Then once that moment passes, you got to get your healthy bodies ready to go. You got to get their minds ready. You got to get them ready spiritually, physically, emotionally.

I mean, we never looked back. We never fretted it. We never felt like we didn't have enough in the room to get it done.

The part that I'm, you know, proud of is the way that they've come together. They actually have gotten closer because of it. That's what you need your teams to do in an adverse moment.

I mean, you can't foresee the chemistry part of it. A lot of what we're doing is because of the closeness of this team, because of Alaina's injury. That's how you want your team to respond.

Q. You were talking about women coaching in the NBA. You and Tara are two of the most prominent women's coaches. But the opportunities for four decades for women to be able to coach women have been slowly declining. How big of an issue do you see that as being, women getting a chance to coach women in college basketball? How do you change the trend, the downward trend?
COACH STALEY: I look at it like this. Obviously women are playing at a high level, which makes our game attractive to men's coaches. That's a great thing.

And also, you know, it reduces the amount of female coaches in our game because of it. So we've made it popular. We've made it appealing to male coaches. Now they want to, you know, be a part of our game.

But I think when given an opportunity, just like men are given the opportunity to coach the women of our game, you tend to have some success with it. I don't think there should be a gender. I think there should be opportunity, you know, for all women. I don't think we need to be overlooked at this point.

Years ago only women wanted to coach women because it wasn't the popular thing. But it's becoming more popular. I hope ADs and administrators are not just looking for the male gender to coach our players.

I'm one that thinks basketball is a place of utopia and fairness. I want to be looked at as a coach and not necessarily as a female coach. I hope everybody, you know, approaches it that way.

Q. Is it an important question?
COACH STALEY: The numbers are looking like it's geared towards that. I know probably some of my other female colleagues would beg to differ, probably differ in how I look at it.

But my approach to the game has been, you know, loving the game. It loves me back. That's the approach that I take from it.

Q. Dawn, a couple weeks ago when Temple lost, the way they lost, Tonya was talking about seniors, the dynamic of the game. You don't see it coming. You had a tough one against Tara in '92. How long did it take you to get over that?
COACH STALEY: I still remember that. I think as many wins that I've been a part of, it's the losses that really sting. '90, '91 and '92 all were opportunities for us to win a national championship. But the last one was probably the hardest one.

I often look back on it and wish I had approached it a little differently because I do think I could have made Angela Taylor foul me. Especially they put her in the game just to guard me in that last play. I just popped out -- I should have popped out and stopped.

At the rate -- I can't say that. I can't continue. I could have made her foul me in that instance (laughter).

Q. Dawn, you played Mississippi State a couple times this season in really, really tough games. What makes them so tough to play? Are you not surprised to see them here, as well as you?
COACH STALEY: Not surprised to see them here. They're very well-coached. They are experienced. Their team has been together for the last three or four years. They're very calculating in what they want to do from an offensive standpoint. Defensively they're pretty stingy.

Vic has done a great job as just building, having some success in our league. When you're having success in our league, when you transition to the NCAA tournament, you know, it puts you in the position where you're ahead of the game.

Then, you know, for how they defend, for how they rebound, how they're calculating on the offensive end, I'm not surprised to see them here on the biggest stage of women's college basketball.

Q. Your men's team, the South Carolina men's team, have any benefits that you don't have?
COACH STALEY: Right now the benefit is they'll probably get all of our fans because it's their first time going to the Final Four. But as far as benefits --

Q. Program benefits.
COACH STALEY: Program benefits? No, we pretty much get what we want. It may be different. We get what we want in order to be successful.

That's what is great about our administrators, from our president to our AD to our janitors, we get the same ovation as anybody on campus. Not just basketball, but football, women's soccer, tennis. All of us feel like, from our administrators, we feel like we're the only program at our university. When you can make somebody feel that special all the time, it leads to being successful.

Q. In terms of your offense, a lot of times your program has been described as a defense-first team. You are consistently top 20 in offensive efficiency, though. This year, in particular, it seems like you have your most diverse offensive team. I'm curious whether you think that is the case. Do you think it's underrated historically, and do you think this offense gives you your best chance at a national championship?
COACH STALEY: Well, here is what has happened over the past few years. We didn't have as much talent as we have, you know, over the past maybe two or three years. So we had to do it with defense and rebounding. We built our program on just that because of the personnel that we have.

Now that we have a more talented roster, we're more versatile. We can do a lot of different things.

I'm not a systems coach, you know. I play off the personnel that we have. We put them in positions to be effective. A lot of times it's off the bounce. A lot of teams that are here, like Stanford, Connecticut, they're a passing offensive team, a systems team that rely on passing. We're a team that relies on putting the ball on the floor, ball screen action, and some passing.

I think we have the best of both worlds in that if you take one thing away, we have some other things that we can rely on because we have the talent to do so.

Q. Is this year your best offensive year?
COACH STALEY: I think we've been put in the situation where we've had to make adjustments. When you've made adjustments, and they work out, it seems pretty good. I thought our coaching staff did a great job.

Once A'ja Wilson went down for a two-week period, we went to a smaller lineup, which helped us. When Coates went down, we just adjusted. We perfected the offense that worked for us. You're seeing us spread the floor a little bit, utilizing the talent that we have.

Q. Dawn, what did you learn as a coach two years ago when you fell just short in the Final Four? Along those lines, seeing UConn here year after year, the consistency, what makes it that difficult to keep on getting back here to the Final Four?
COACH STALEY: Well, what we've learned two years ago is probably what we learned throughout our entire coaching career, and just in basketball. The margin of error is so small, so small. I mean, if Aleighsa Welch makes a shot on one entity, we're up three, and the ballgame's over.

But because she missed, we go down, we defended extremely well, so much so we got a blocked shot, it was an air ball that -- what is her name? Graduated. She put it back in. I forget her name. She's from Maryland, right? She put it back in. That's the margin of error, an air ball that turned put them up by one.

I mean, it's hard getting here. It's very difficult getting to the third weekend of the NCAA tournament. For us, it's an uphill battle. But because of the conference that we play in, it provides us a platform to have some success in the NCAA tournament.

With Connecticut, the way they do things, you know, at the rate that they do things, I mean, it's pretty special. They do a great job at running their system on both sides of the ball. They make you rise up to their level of play year in and year out.

Hopefully by us being here, possibly continuing to play them in the regular season and hopefully the post-season, you get a little bit closer to reducing the margin of error.

That's what it is, you have to continue to reduce the margin of error against a team that is so stingy on both sides of the ball.

Q. Dawn, following up on the offensive development you talked about. You brought in Melanie Balcomb to do some offensive analytics. How did that come about? What kind of insights have you gotten from that? How much has that helped with the personnel you have this year?
COACH STALEY: Well, we found out that Melanie wasn't returning to Vanderbilt. We wanted to keep great basketball minds in our game. The guys do it all the time. There's not a great coach on the men's side that is jobless, without wanting to be in that position.

I just thought it was a great opportunity for us to capitalize on bringing in a great offensive mind into the fold. It's worked out terrifically. Our coaching staff has been together, most of us, for nine years now. Sometimes you're hearing the same things, you're doing the same things. The things that you're doing work.

But you bring someone like Melanie into the fold, she just gives us a different perspective on things. Melanie is one that breaks it down. I mean, she likes counters to everything that she does. Sometimes we look for maybe one or two options, where she's looking at how the defense is playing and how we can still run the same play and get maybe a third or fourth option out of it.

She's constantly throughout the year helping us with that.

Q. Dawn, for people who don't follow the season throughout, and are only catching the Final Four right now, for any of the other three teams, how would you describe or explain to someone how to beat a team like UConn who has won 111 straight games?
COACH STALEY: To beat a team like UConn, you have to prep for them not just in tournament play. You have to prep for them all season long. You have to work on something that is effective against them, and you have to perfect it from day one. You keep working.

They do have the luxury of working on things throughout the year because they don't have a whole lot of competitive games in their league. So for us, you know, we play them mid February. They have a month and a half to get ready to perfect the game against us.

Also with their regular season, they play so many top-level teams in the country, you know, they're already ahead of the game, just including their style of play. Again, they make you rise to their level of play.

In order for you to beat a team like UConn, you got to be given opportunities to play them not just once a year. I think some of the things that we did in the game against them this year, if given the opportunity to play them on Sunday, we've been working on those things since then.

That's something that you have to do. It's all about preparation. You can't come into a tournament like this and think you can beat them off of one day of preparation.

THE MODERATOR: Thank you, Coach.

COACH STALEY: Thank you.

FastScripts Transcript by ASAP Sports

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