MINNEAPOLIS – Dawn Staley and Geno Auriemma hugged at midcourt after South Carolina ended UConn's undefeated run in NCAA championship games.
It was the first time the coaches had met on women basketball's biggest stage and may not be the last with so many talented players returning for both teams next season, including the last two AP Players of the Year in Aliyah Boston of South Carolina and Paige Bueckers of UConn.
“It's hard to say each year what could happen" Auriemma said. “This year was a perfect example of you plan for some things and then all of a sudden your plans get blown up. I like our chances. Provided we don't have to navigate a season like we did this year, knock on wood. If we stay healthy, I expect to be back next year.”
The first matchup went to the Gamecocks in dominant fashion, a 64-49 victory Sunday that gave Staley her second national championship in two title games appearances. It left Auriemma with his first loss in 12 tries.
“Look at the tradition of UConn and what they've been able to do,” Staley said. “They're the standard. If it takes winning 11 national championships to be a dynasty, I'm probably going to fall short of that, because I'm not going to be in the game long enough for us to win 11.”
She's set her own standard though. The victory made Staley the first Black coach in either men's or women's Division I basketball to win two national championships, getting her first one in 2017.
“I felt a great deal of pressure to win because I'm a Black coach,” she said. “Because if we don't win, then you bring in so many other, just scrutiny. Like you can't coach, you had enough to get it done but yet you failed. You feel all of that, and you feel it probably 10 times more than anyone else because we're at this platform.”
Staley said she feels she can provide inspiration for other Black coaches.
“If I can be that ray of hope, if I can be that vessel of theirs to them being successful, you know I'm a willing giver of this game, because this game has given me so much.”
On Sunday night, it gave Staley another championship.
“We played every possession like it was our last possession,” Staley said. “They were determined to be champions today.”
A year ago, South Carolina lost in the Final Four when Boston missed a layup before the buzzer.
“Obviously, I’ve been thinking about this since last season. Everyone had a picture of me crying,” said Boston, who was the Most Outstanding Player of the Final Four. “Today, we’re national champions and I’m in tears.”
With Staley calling the shots in a Louis Vuitton letterman jacket, South Carolina took UConn to school on the boards and capped a wire-to-wire run as the No. 1 team in the country in The Associated Press poll.
“They deserved it 100%,” Auriemma said. “They were the best team all year. The first five minutes, I thought they came out and set the tone then and there for how the game was going to be played.”
More AP coverage of March Madness: https://apnews.com/hub/march-madness and https://apnews.com/hub/womens-college-basketball and https://twitter.com/AP_Top25