The Daily Gamecock

'Our history over their history': Staley, Gamecocks ready for UConn rematch in title game

South Carolina women's basketball prepares for the national championship during an open practice and media availabilities in Minneapolis, MN on Saturday, April 2, 2022.

Ahead of the NCAA tournament championship game on Sunday, South Carolina head coach Dawn Staley previewed a familiar opponent in Geno Auriemma and the University of Connecticut and assessed the guard play of her squad. 

“I think any time that you’re in this position to compete for a national championship it’s a pretty big deal, and if you have Philly ties, it’s a bigger deal. And Geno has had a legendary career,” Staley said.

Staley said the Nov. 22, 2021 matchup early in the season between the two finalists, which the Gamecocks won 73-57, will not be at the forefront of her players’ minds but that the defensive effort was worth reviewing.

“The Bahamas game was eons ago. What did we take it from it? We're going to watch it a little bit because I liked the way we were defending, and we can compare what that looks like back in November to what it looks like now,” Staley explained. “I think we've gotten better, but we did a pretty good job in the Bahamas.”

Connecticut’s program experience allows it to be prepared for the biggest stages according to Staley but she noted that neither team has a former champion on its roster. 

“It comes down to UConn's had the most experience, so it doesn't faze them to be where they are. Probably a little bit different with this group because they haven't won one — any person hasn't won one on their roster. For us, same way, haven't won one. So, I think we're going to duke it out,” Staley said.

Staley also discussed the notable absence of sophomore guard Paige Bueckers for Connecticut during the regular season and the impact she's had since her return.

“When you get her back, even if she's 70%, you got to guard her. You've got to pay attention to her. The months that she was out, those other players, adverse moments are either going to bring you together or they're going to pull you apart. They chose to come together and play like a cohesive unit, and now it really didn't surprise me that they're here,” Staley said.

South Carolina’s starting guards in senior Destanni Henderson, junior Zia Cooke and junior Brea Beal also garnered praise from the Naismith Coach of the Year. Staley said she works to allow her players to be who they are and hopes to take them where they want to go.

“They can give each other looks, and they know exactly what they mean out there on the floor ... They have a mutual respect for what they do and what they mean to our team,” Staley said.

Staley made a point to praise every guard on the roster for their sacrifices and commitment to the team’s goal of winning a championship.

“We've got a lot of guards, and I think it's cool that they have a tight bond. They have a friendship. They have a healthy competitiveness even though probably a third of them play the majority of the minutes,” Staley said.

Following its 34th win of the season in the Final Four, Staley said she believes the team is focused. Staley shared her message to the team ahead of its biggest game of the season.

“I say what we said all season long: Our history over their history. And it's not just — not just UConn. It's just when we played anybody,” Staley asserted, adding that her and her players want to leave their mark in the basketball history books.