This year isn't the first time that South Carolina head women's basketball coach Dawn Staley and Stanford head women's basketball coach Tara VanDerveer have run into each other in the NCAA women's basketball Final Four.
Most recently, South Carolina and the Cardinal met in the Final Four in the 2016-2017 season, which ended in a 62-53 victory for South Carolina who went on to defeat Mississippi State in the National Championship. But even that game wasn't the first time the teams met.
Staley and VanDerveer crossed paths on the court in 1990 when Virginia and Stanford met in the Final Four. Staley was a sophomore point guard for the Cavaliers at the time and VanDerveer was in her fifth year as Stanford's head coach. VanDerveer ended up leading Stanford to a 75-66 victory and would go on to take the Cardinal to a National Championship win over Auburn a few days later.
Virginia and Stanford met again in the Final Four two years later for a rematch of the 1990 semifinal game. VanDerveer's team got the best of Staley and the Cavaliers in round two, beating the team 66-65. Stanford went on to defeat Western Kentucky 78-62 to capture its second national title in three years.
In 1996, Staley and VanDerveer crossed paths on the hardwood again, this time joining forces on behalf of the United States. The two teamed up to represent the US women's basketball in the '96 Olympic Games in Atlanta, Georgia. Staley played on the star-studded team and VanDerveer took a year off of coaching at Stanford to coach the team, as it was the first time in program history that the team trained and played together for a year before the Games.
The team went on to post a 60-0 total record, going 52-0 in exhibition games and 8-0 in Olympic competition, securing a gold medal to seal the deal.
Staley and VanDerveer aren't just competitors on the court though, they're also friends off of it. Staley spent a large portion of a press conference on Thursday afternoon praising VanDerveer and everything she's done for the game of basketball, as well as for herself.
"You know, for Tara and all the coaches who have dedicated their lives to growing the game and impacting young people as they have, I mean, it says that they're doing it for all the right reasons," Staley said about VanDerveer, who has been a head coach for 41 seasons and is the winningest women's college basketball coach.
Staley went on to say that VanDerveer meant so much to her as a player and that she called VanDerveer after she was offered her first head coaching job at Temple.
"I reached out to her, 21 years ago, when I told her Temple offered me the job," Staley said. "I asked her 'What do you think Tara?' she was like 'Don't do it.'"
Staley said that VanDerveer’s response added to her competitive edge.
"For me, I need some type of a chip, you know, and I think Tara saying that gave me a little chip on my shoulder to kind of prove her wrong," Staley said.
VanDerveer said during a press conference on Thursday that she thinks Staley will always strive to be the best — whether that's in basketball or any other aspect of life.
"She was something special as a player and she is incredibly special as a coach. I loved coaching Dawn, she is a very — as a player she really saw the game so well, I mean she really has great instincts, great understanding of the game, she was a tremendous leader of her team, someone that is super competitive," VanDerveer said.
Despite the friendship between the two, they'll have to face off in the 2021 NCAA women's Final Four in San Antonio, Texas for a spot in the National Championship game.
They shared similar words of competition: "I do want Tara to get another National Championship," Staley said. "Just not like in 1992 at my expense."
VanDerveer said that she will cheer for Staley in every game, "except for the game tomorrow."