DALLAS, TX – You know what they say: everything’s bigger in Texas.
An overused adage, probably, but the South Carolina versus Stanford showdown for a trip to the national championship was big time.
As if this year’s tournament hasn’t already had us all on our toes, starting with seedings and placement, tonight’s situation wasn’t much different (other than maybe just a tad bit more on the line).
Midway through the second quarter, Stanford’s Karlie Samuelson was carried off the court for an ankle injury. Although she was back for the second half, March Madness has unfortunately been plagued with injuries in 2017. The Gamecocks took arguably the biggest hit after losing Alaina Coates.
But this time of the year, there is no room for excuses. Besides, Dawn Staley and company take no bull. And it shows. South Carolina could have made excuses after trailing by nine at halftime or only scoring a rare 20 points in the first 20 minutes when they average around 77 points per game.
“Our team has an incredible focus on the end result,” Staley said. “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.”
If anyone deserves a trip to the title game, it’s the Gamecocks. Staley boasts a coaching resume that even takes the word impressive up a few notches. What makes her career quite jaw-dropping is that in her inaugural season in 2008, her squad won 10 total games. They only won two games in the SEC that same year.
Now the Gamecocks are a force to be reckoned with: 32-4 this season after tonight’s 62-53 win, have been ranked in every AP poll since 2013-14 and – as their crowd in Dallas demonstrated – have one of the most (if not the most) passionate fan bases in the country. Since Daley took over, home attendance numbers have tripled.
Staley knows how to win. She knows how to make people believe. She knows how to make the game exciting and for people to echo that same excitement.
“I just want to say to God be the glory that we're in this position, to play for a national championship,” Head Coach Dawn Staley said. “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.”
Humble beginnings make a win in the Final Four that much sweeter. Although many were hoping for a Samuelson sister matchup in the championship, there’s no question Sunday’s headline will be one for the ages.