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March 31, 2017

Allisha Gray

Dawn Staley

A'ja Wilson

Dallas, Texas

South Carolina - 62, Stanford - 53

THE MODERATOR: We're joined by South Carolina.

We'll take questions for the student-athletes first, please.

Q. A'ja, they were obviously very physical with you out there. How did you remain physically tough but also mentally tough, as well?
A'JA WILSON: Of course, it was very frustrating. It was very tough to remain tough. But it was something I've seen before in the SEC. Playing in the SEC, I see that kind of every night. It wasn't anything that I haven't seen. It was just a matter of this time, it was kind of frustrating because I felt like I wasn't really in the play offensively.

I mean, I just kind of remained me. My teammates really rallied around me. Kept positive thoughts into my mind. Coach Staley kept positive thoughts into my mind. I think that kind of helped me overcome just kind of the way the game was going for me.

Q. A'ja, curious about two things. What did you see out of the double-teams? What were you able to recognize? Seemed like you were able to make decisions to help you get to the basket, especially in the second half. There was a spot where a 50/50 ball came your way, you made it to the basket. Put you up. That seemed to give you more flow over the remainder of the game. Was that the case?
A'JA WILSON: Yeah, I think so. It's very tough when you have kind of three people around you. You see that your teammate is open, but you really just can't get it there the way that you want it. So, of course, it's frustrating. I see it, and I just can't get there.

I kind of let the game come to me, honestly. I try to get every loose ball without fouling. I find a way for us to get the possession. If it was that 50/50 ball, so be it. I think that really kind of gave me the momentum to say, Okay, we're going to be okay, just kind of push through.

Q. Miss Gray, y'all only scored six points in the second quarter. What did Coach Staley say to you guys to take over the lead midway through the third?
ALLISHA GRAY: Our energy was down, we just needed to play to our tempo, start pushing tempo. Once we get that, we got on our run. We was able to go on our 13-0 run.

Q. A'ja, when you're getting double and triple teamed like that, you're having trouble getting a look at the basket, do you count on the defense and the rebounding? You led the team in assists, as well. Do you look to do all that other stuff, maybe just say, 'Okay, now the offense will come to you'?
A'JA WILSON: Yeah, most definitely. I just kind of let the game come to me, whatever category it is on the stat sheet. I want to make an impact on my team any way I can. Tonight obviously was kind of rebounding. I could have shocked myself with that (laughter).

But it goes to show, you know, you got to find a different way in the game that you can impact your team. I think rebounding kind of stuck out to me. I just tried to get every ball that I could.

Q. A'ja, yesterday you were kind of telling us about what you were telling your teammates after your Final Four from two years ago. Given that experience from two years ago, what does it mean to now get to a championship game?
A'JA WILSON: Oh, I can't even put into words the feeling that I have right now. This is a very special team. I feel like we've earned this spot that we're in now. We know that we're not done. But just the feeling of just making history at your school is just something really special. Especially with the game of women's basketball, we're kind of putting South Carolina on the map right now. It's just a great feeling for us.

I think we're blessed and we're really honored to be in this situation.

Q. Tara VanDerveer said she felt that Dawn probably challenged you to come out and play better in the second half. You had 11 rebounds in the second. Was that the case?
A'JA WILSON: I don't think she necessarily challenged us. I think that kind of came from within. We knew we had to go out and get every possession. I know Coach said in our huddle, we got to treat every possession like it's our last. That's what you have to do at this time of the year. I think that's something that we really kind of stuck to us. We knew we had to get the ball, earn our possessions, keep our possessions. I think we did a pretty good job of doing that.

THE MODERATOR: Thank you, ladies.

We'll take questions for Coach Staley.

Q. Dawn, I think earlier one of the questions to one of the players, the poor shooting in the first half. I guess the question is, 25 percent shooting, did you feel fortunate to only be down nine points?
COACH STALEY: First of all, I just want to say to God be the glory that we're in this position, to play for a national championship. Something that is so very hard to do. Sometimes when your kids play on this stage, they don't quite come out and execute like they have in their minds, like we prepped.

We knew exactly what Stanford was going to do to us. They were going to sag on us. They want to force us to take some outside shots. They forced us to play at a speed in which benefited them. When you're playing at that speed, you don't have any fluidity to what you're doing on the offensive end. If you're not creating it by pushing the ball down the floor, by changing speeds, you're not going to make great shots. They're not even shots that you practice at the speed that you practice at.

So we were fortunate to be down nine. But I just wanted to get our kids to the locker room at halftime because I knew, no matter how many points we were down, we could utilize our speed to get back into play, whether that's trapping in the halfcourt, whether that's picking up full court, whether that's coming off ball screens, setting our players up in positions where they could be effective.

Timeouts weren't long enough to get our message across. We needed to get into halftime, kind of exhale a little bit.

Q. Dawn, obviously offensively there was a difficulty getting into a rhythm. Seemed like defensively you were doing a lot of what you set out to do, knocking them off the three-point line, making sure every shot was a tough shot. Did you feel like the team, throughout this game, was performing to the defensive expectations you had set?
COACH STALEY: That is exactly why, you know, we built our reputation on defense. You're going to have bad shooting nights at times. This was one of them. If we didn't hold Stanford to 29 points, which is not bad, it's not bad. I thought we did what we needed to do from a defensive standpoint.

A lot of what they got from an offensive standpoint was because of our shots. We had some imbalance on the offensive end. They created easy buckets for them in transition.

But then the second half, I thought we just imposed our will from a defensive standpoint, sped the game up, and got playing at a pace which benefited our style of play.

Q. You have kind of a thing about bouncing back. You've done it throughout the season. Next man up mentality. What is it about you guys that gives you so much resilience? Do you think it will give you an edge in the next game?
COACH STALEY: I mean, we feel like we're always going to be in the game. For the league we play in, the SEC, it is a tough league. We've been in familiar situations. We don't fret it. We don't get down on ourselves. We just find a way.

Our team has an incredible focus on the end result. The stuff in between, it's going to happen. Runs are going to happen. Bad shots are going to happen. Turnovers are going to happen. But we hang our hats on being able to control some of the tempo that happens out there.

I think a good team can bounce back from any adverse situation in a game. I thought our team has done that throughout the season.

Q. Dawn, what was it like playing against a coach that you know so well? Did that make any difference in the game, how you planned for the game? What does it mean to you to beat Tara after having played for her so long ago and being mentored by her?
COACH STALEY: You know, I think leading up to the game, you think about all the wonderful things that we've accomplished together. Also you think about the things, you know, Tara, we text, we call, we talk to each other throughout the season.

She's been one of my biggest supporters since I've been in coaching. She's what's right for women's basketball. She wants younger coaches to have success in this league.

I can't thank her enough. But then you start thinking about, you know, they throw up statistics on the television screen, 0-5 coaching against her. You think at some point the law of averages should play out at some point (smiling).

But once the game started, I didn't really look at it as Tara VanDerveer. We tell our players, our opponents are nameless and faceless. We need to go out there. Because if you start playing the name, you start playing the face, you start playing the tradition, I think it overwhelms you.

We just approach it like they're any other opponent. We don't get ahead of ourselves.

Q. A'ja talked about it was tough staying tough with everything that was going on. What does it do for you guys when she's able to do that? She took her game to a different level when she couldn't score the points she wanted to, things like that.
COACH STALEY: I mean, A'ja, she's come a long way as far as handling physicality. We know that teams are going to, you know, wall up and smother her. I didn't think she handled the double-teams and triple-teams well tonight.

But she found a way to impact the game other ways. Getting in there and rebounding the basketball. If we don't have her contributions on the boards, you know, we're not playing on Sunday night.

But really proud of how she stuck in there, hung in there, not got down on herself, because she found herself in familiar grounds, playing in the SEC, seeing so many different looks like that. You tend to figure out, you know, Maybe it's not my night from an offensive standpoint, let me go try to impact it somewhere else.

Q. With losing Alaina to that nagging ankle injury, how much is it an initiative that A'ja Wilson has stepped up like she has?
COACH STALEY: I think with A'ja, knowing she didn't have her partner in crime for the remainder of the season, I think she kind of exhaled a little bit. She figured out ways in which she can still impact the game.

We've moved her around and allowed her to kind of control the paint. She's taken the approach of, you know, keep it moving forward, let's do it for Alaina (Coates). She's not able to help us out physically, so let's make sure we give her every opportunity to get another ring, because Alaina Coates likes rings. She wears all her rings all the time on every finger. We want to add one more to the collection (smiling).

Q. Coach, you seemed slightly sluggish in the last two minutes of the second quarter. You regained the lead at about 3:25 and never looked back. What do you think was the biggest difference? What adjustment did you make at halftime?
COACH STALEY: The biggest adjustment was speeding up the game. We couldn't play at that pace, shoot the ball the way we were shooting the ball. We had to figure out a way in which to create some easy buckets in transition. I thought we pressured the ball when we came out of halftime.

During the middle of the third quarter when they got settled in with how we were playing, we went to a zone. I thought the zone bothered them a little bit, forced them to take some outside shots, and they missed. They missed a lot of shots in the third quarter that we capitalized on. That was all because of the pace of the game changed.

THE MODERATOR: Thank you, Coach.

COACH STALEY: Thank you.

FastScripts Transcript by ASAP Sports

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