South Carolina head coach Dawn Staley discusses perfect season, third NCAA title

Written by on April 8, 2024

Head coach Dawn Staley of the South Carolina Gamecocks cuts down the net after beating the Iowa Hawkeyes in the 2024 NCAA Women’s Basketball Tournament National Championship at Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse on April 7, 2024 in Cleveland. — Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

(NEW YORK) — Head coach Dawn Staley’s proverbial cup “runneth over” on the court Sunday, overcome with emotion after she led the South Carolina women’s basketball team to its third NCAA title.

“The emotions took over — when you’re competing for a national championship, any big goal, you pray, and then you’re not supposed to worry. And I did a lot of worrying, but I did a lot of praying,” Staley told Good Morning America Monday after the 87-75 win over the Iowa Hawkeyes. “My cup runneth over. And there’s not much I could do besides release it through crying and through thanking the Lord for giving us another yet another blessing. I never want to not give him his due because, you know, he’s given me uncommon favor.”

Since taking over as head coach in 2008, the team has made six Final Four appearances under Staley’s leadership. The Gamecocks have notched 109 wins with only three losses in the last three seasons.

Despite being down in the first quarter, Staley was confident in the team she previously called an “unlikely group.” The Gamecocks went on to become the first team to win by double digits in a national title game after trailing by double digits earlier in the game.

“I felt it at the very beginning of the season, they said give me three words to describe this team and I said, ‘expect the unexpected,'” Staley recalled on GMA, adding, “They have taken us through incredible highs and lows.”

She explained that with her own high standards for players, “if you have not come from a standard that’s high, you can’t possibly give them that standard. You have to meet them and teach them where they need to be. To be respectful to people and respectful to the game of basketball or else, you know, you’re not gonna get it. You are not going to meet your mark.”

“Luckily, thank God, they got it in time enough to do something about it, and challenge each other to be their best advocates, teammates and critics at the same time,” Staley continued.

The championship also marked the final collegiate game for Hawkeyes star guard Caitlin Clark, who broke the all-time NCAA college basketball leading scoring record for men and women this season, and is headed to the WNBA draft.

Staley, who gave a special shoutout to Clark on the court Sunday, called the 22-year-old a “generational talent” on GMA.

“I think she’s the sole responsibility of our game being raised to this level of playing, as many women’s games basketball games were on national television. … Every time she plays, she seems to outdo herself. There’s not a lot of people that can demand and command that kind of attention, and Caitlin’s one of them,” Staley said.

“I know her shoulders are heavy because of what she has to give to women’s basketball. I just want to say we’re thankful. We’re thankful that she chose to play basketball. We’re thankful for the way she’s handled all of it,” the coach said.”Her next step is the WNBA — I do think she can be that person that elevates us.”

Now that the NCAA season is complete, Staley has her sights set on the summer Olympics in Paris, where she will coach Team USA — and possibly Clark, who has said she hopes to make the team. Staley previously led the U.S. team to gold in Tokyo in 2021.

Caitlin Clark says she’s ‘ready for the next chapter’ after breaking scoring records, declaring for WNBA draft.

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