Dallas, TX -- Stanford and South Carolina will be the opening game of the Final Four and neither team is all that surprising to see make the trip to Dallas. Stanford just barely squeezed past Notre Dame after a 16-point comeback in the Lexington Regional, while South Carolina pulled off their big win to get here against Florida State in Stockton.
For the Gamecocks, the road to the Final Four has not been one without adversity. They lost senior center Alaina Coates, one of their top players, to injury during the SEC Tournament. Though, if anything, it has made them stronger.
South Carolina Head Coach Dawn Staley said, “You exhale for a second because you feel bad for her. Then once that moment passes… you got to get them ready spiritually, physically, emotionally. 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.”
Coach Staley is not a stranger to Final Fours, as she’s been there herself as a player. That experience still motivates her to this day.
“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.”
Though the sheer accomplishment of even making it to the Final Four is not lost. And the level of talent of any opponent can’t be overlooked.
Kaela Davis stated, “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.”
The Cardinal know firsthand how difficult the competition is at this point. They’re coming off an emotional Elite Eight win. Senior guard Briana Roberson re-lived those final seconds that got them here.
“On the bench, there was a prayer circle with 2.3 seconds left. Bird (Erica McCall) saw the opportunity to block the shot and we sprinted to each other. It’s so satisfying and relieving that all of the hard work has paid off and you’re one of the four teams.”
Stanford celebrated their win, but they know their journey isn’t over and it’s time to switch gears.
Senior forward Erica McCall said, “That game against Notre Dame is back behind us know. We're focused on South Carolina and I think we're ready to go.”
This South Carolina, Stanford match-up has a friendly rivalry within it, though. Coach Staley played for Stanford Head Coach Tara VanDerveer on the 1996 Olympic team. Coach Staley played for Stanford Head Coach Tara Vanderveer on the 1996 Olympic team.
Coach Vanderveer said, “I always have respected Dawn's competitiveness, her work ethic, her absolute passion for the game of basketball. I texted her 'congratulations' after the Florida State win. I said I have just one problem, I can't cheer for you on Friday night.”