The South Carolina women’s basketball team will look to rely on its experience and talent to continue its run towards a national championship, but a Final Four matchup against the Louisville Cardinals will come first in Minneapolis.
Head coach Dawn Staley dismissed the 2021 Final Four disappointment for her team as motivation, instead pointing to the team’s growth throughout the current season.
“We’re motivated by what we’ve been able to do this year and the habits that we’ve been able to create and perform night in and night out. We just hope that our habits are much stronger than our opponents on any given day,” Staley said.
Ahead of its matchup with fellow No. 1 seed Louisville, Staley and junior forward Aliyah Boston were rewarded for their outstanding seasons as the pair swept the Naismith awards ceremony on Wednesday.
Staley earned her second Naismith Coach of the Year award in the past three seasons and Boston took home the Naismith Player and Defensive Player of the Year honors. Junior guard Zia Cooke said she was excited for both her coach and teammate.
“Aliyah, I definitely thought that she deserved it 100%, and even if she didn’t get the award, to us she would’ve been our player of the year. And coach, she’s the GOAT, so I kind of figured she was going to get it,” Cooke said with a smile.
Despite the honors, Staley emphasized how important it has been for each player on the team to buy in to the team while putting individual desires aside.
“Every single player, we’ve asked to make a sacrifice to make this year special. And, you know, sometimes that’s playing a whole lot, sometimes that’s playing a little, sometimes it's not playing at all,” Staley explained.
Staley said her team is used to playing under pressure, noting that the current class of juniors has experienced this throughout their careers and knows they will be met with each opponent’s best effort.
“We got a poised group, we got a really focused core group of players who, they just want to win, they’re smart, they know what’s coming,” Staley said.
The matchup between the Gamecocks and the Cardinals will be played on Friday at 7 p.m. and will be televised on ESPN.
“I’m looking forward to the challenge of playing Louisville because there are only four teams standing, and we’re very, very lucky to be matched up against each other,” Staley said. “So, I’m looking for an exciting semifinals and may the best team win.”