There would be no missed putbacks, no last second collapses and no denying Dawn Staley’s South Carolina Gamecocks squad on Sunday night as they grabbed the second NCAA Women’s Basketball National Championship of her tenure as head coach.
The game wasn’t even close: South Carolina seemed to never get tired on defense, smothering a legendary U-Conn program with a suffocating press nearly all game. Offensively, forward Aliyah Boston and guard Destanni Henderson damn near outscored U-Conn by themselves, putting up 42 of South Carolina’s 65 points; the Huskies scored 49 points total.
South Carolina’s dominance in the championship was a fitting end to a season in which they steamrolled the rest of the field; the Gamecocks lost only two of their 37 games all season. All of which leads to a single conclusion: It’s time to put Dawn Staley’s face on the Mount Rushmore of college basketball coaches.
Haters will argue that it’s too soon to add Staley’s name to the list of GOATs that includes Mike Krzyzewski, whose career was ended with a loss to North Carolina on Saturday, John Wooden, the king of kings of NCAA coaches, Georgetown’s Big John Thompson, the late, great Pat Summitt and U-Conn’s Geno Auriemma, whose undefeated streak in NCAA title games South Carolina extinguished last night. It’s fine if you feel that way, as long as you accept that that you’re unequivocally wrong.
Her middling tenure as head coach at Temple notwithstanding, Staley in a very short time has climbed to the top of the mountain among active coaches. Her resume is good enough to put up against almost any other college head coach.
Under Staley, the Gamecocks have made 10 consecutive N.C.A.A. tournaments, earned four trips to the Final Four and, after Sunday night, won two national championships. This has been a slow burn for Staley, who rebuilt South Carolina’s program from the ground up. That Sunday’s win was against Connecticut, the most decorated women’s basketball program, suggests a changing of the guard in the sport…
Her rosters have proved themselves over and over. Staley has led the Gamecocks to their only No. 1 rankings in program history and sent eight Gamecocks to the W.N.B.A draft, including the No. 1 overall pick in 2018, A’ja Wilson, who helped bring home the Gamecocks’ first national title in 2017.
Staley is only 51. Auriemma is 17 years older. Coach K is 75. Wooden retired at 64. Summitt, the winningest coach in NCAA women’s basketball history, was only 59 when she retired but that happened forcibly because of the complications of early onset Alzheimer’s disease.
Staley, barring any similar tragedy or just a sudden loss of interest in coaching, could reasonably continue padding her stats for the next two decades. It’s time to put some respect on her name.