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Staley, South Carolina in good place to repeat as champions

Thien-An Truong/ISI Photos / Getty Images Sport / Getty

CLEVELAND (AP) — Dawn Staley and South Carolina have cemented their place as the next dynasty in women's basketball.

With two NCAA titles in the past three seasons and 109 wins in the last 112 games, it's hard to argue with that. It doesn't look like it's going to end any time soon with most of the players back from this year's title team.

First it was Immaculata then Louisiana Tech and USC. Next was Pat Summitt with Tennessee before Geno Auriemma and UConn took over.

Now it's Staley's turn. She joined an exclusive group on Sunday as the Gamecocks became the 10th team to go undefeated in a season. Staley also became the fifth coach to win at least three NCAA titles.

After Sunday's 87-75 win over Caitlin Clark and Iowa, the Gamecocks have won three titles in the last eight years. In her 16 years at the school, Staley has built South Carolina, which was once an also-ran in the tradition-rich Southeastern Conference, into the measuring stick for the women’s game.

“Dawn Staley knows that it takes more than Xs and Os to win games,” basketball analyst Christy Winters-Scott said. “She is winning the hearts, souls and minds of the next generation of powerful, exceptional leaders. The level of faith and belief is what will continue to carry this program forward for years to come.”

A'ja Wilson got the title run started in 2017 and then it was Aliyah Boston's turn as she led the team to the 2022 championship.

Staley could have had a few more. She missed out in 2020 due to the coronavirus pandemic when her team was one of the best in the country. The Gamecocks also fell just short a couple times in the Final Four.

With most of the team — minus Kamilla Cardoso — returning, there's every reason to think more titles are on the horizon. Raven Johnson made huge strides this year as well. Freshmen Tessa Johnson and MiLaysia Fulwiley also stepped up big in the NCAA Tournament.

“This team, we’re going to be good. Coach Staley, we have the best coach, what, in the country, in the nation, in the whole wide world?” Raven Johnson said. “It’s no telling what she’s going to add to the pieces that’s already here. I just say be on the lookout.”

Staley's proud of how she said her team has done things the “right way.”

“We find the right pieces to help us. We really do things the right way. We’re very disciplined in how we approach basketball,” Staley said. “I am one that, I’m forever indebted to basketball, so I’m always going to take care of it. I’m always going to make sure that our players are respectful. I’m always going to make sure that they know the history of our game. I want to make sure they are always respectful to our opponents.”

While Iowa is going to take a huge hit with the loss of Clark, other teams could threaten the Gamecocks like UConn, USC, Texas, Notre Dame and a few others.

There's also the active transfer portal, so teams can change their rosters very quickly.


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