Coach Dawn Staley in spotlight after Gamecocks capture NCAA Division I national basketball championship 


By Edward G. Robinson III
AFRO Contributing Sports Editor 

As confetti rained down upon her, South Carolina coach Dawn Staley raised her arms to the sky – a national television audience watched on as she, her team and assistant coaches basked in the moment.

“We all know she loves confetti,” ESPN sideline reporter Holly Rowe said as Staley looked to the heavens and then doubled over in exasperation on the floor of Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse in Cleveland.

Staley and her team seized this moment to celebrate a season full of accomplishments that culminated in a 87-75 victory over Iowa – and its wunderkind guard Caitlin Clark – to capture a NCAA Division I national championship on April 7.

Tears rolled down Staley’s face as she described the improbable run her No. 1-ranked team made this season – finishing with an undefeated record (38-0).

The Gamecocks are the 10th team in Division I history to claim a perfect season.

“You have to let young people be who they are,” Staley explained. “But you have to guide them and help navigate them through this tough, tough world. When young people lock in and have a belief and have a trust … this is what can happen.

“They made history. They etched their names in the history books. When this is the most unlikely group to do it,” she said in news interviews immediately after the win. 

The Gamecocks fended off Clark – who scored a game-high 30 points and stands as the NCAA Division I career leading scorer with 3,951 points – to collect the program’s third championship in five seasons.

They did so after losing five starters from a team that lost to Iowa in the tournament last season. This time, though, the Gamecocks were led by 6-foot-7 senior center Kamilla Cardoso – the Final Four’s most valuable player – who scored 15 points and grabbed 17 rebounds. 

South Carolina freshman Tessa Johnson scored a team-high 19 points, while the Gamecocks’ bench outscored Iowa 37-0. 

They also outrebounded the Haweyes 51-29.

Staley became the fifth coach to win at least three national championships – standing with Geno Auriemma, Pat Summitt, Kim Mulkey and Tara VanDerveer.

She became the first black coach to win three NCAA titles and first Division I black coach to go undefeated in a season.

“I’m super proud,” she said. “It’s awesome. It’s unbelievable.”

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