Final Four notebook: Staley a rising star in coaching

Photo of Brian Koonz

DALLAS — South Carolina coach Dawn Staley won her first national championship Sunday night with a 67-55 victory over Mississippi State at the American Airlines Center.

In 2020, Staley hopes to win her first Olympic gold medal as a coach. She will replace UConn coach Geno Auriemma as head coach of the U.S. women’s national team at the Tokyo Olympics.

Staley, who won three gold medals as a player, has parlayed that experience at South Carolina. She has taken a once-dormant program and turned it into a school ready to raise its first national championship banner.

On Sunday, with America watching on ESPN and another 20,000 fans in the stands, Staley thanked God first because this has never been about her.

Just ask the best player in Dallas.

“I really can’t put it into words how much it means to win this game for coach after all she’s done for us,” said A’ja Wilson, the Most Outstanding Player of the Final Four. “It means something very special to bring this back home for such a special person as Coach Staley.”

For most of this past week, it was nearly 80 degrees and sunny in Dallas.

On Sunday, the Gamecock mascot sprawled across the court and made snow angels in golden flakes of confetti. The ring will come later.

No second act for William

After ending UConn’s season with an overtime buzzer-beater Friday night, Mississippi State’s Morgan William was neutralized by South Carolina.

William, nicknamed “Itty Bitty” by local fans, struggled to get her shots off the way she did against the Huskies.

There was a big reason for that Sunday — South Carolina had already beaten Mississippi State twice during the regular season in the Southeastern Conference.

William finished with a larger-than-life 13 points and six assists gainst UConn, but just eight points in 23 minutes — and only one foul — aginst the Gamecocks.

This wasn’t about foul trouble. It was about a 5-foot-5 guard matching up against 6-2 guards from the Gamecocks.

”South Carolina is really good defensively,” Mississippi State coach Vic Schaefer said. “They played really hard against us ... We were a half-step late all day.”

Live by the spurt, die by it

Mississippi State opened an early 29-13 gash on the scoreboard in its 66-64 semifinal victory over UConn.

The opening barrage set the tone, and ultimately, set the stage for the Bulldogs to reach the national championship game.

But against South Carolina, the team that had already figured out the Bulldogs, Mississippi State found itself on the wrong side of the equation Sunday.

South Carolina grabbed a 31-18 lead out of the gate and turned back the Bulldogs every time, even as they closed to four points in the second half.

It was no different Jan. 23 in a 64-61 loss to the Gamecocks in Starkville, Miss. It was more of the same March 5 in a 69-59 loss to South Carolina in the SEC tournament.; @briankoonz