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Coaches on display as South Carolina faces Stanford

DALLAS -- Dawn Staley and Tara VanDerveer meet again, and once again on women's college basketball's biggest stage.

Staley and VanDerveer go way back, most notably to the 1990 Final Four when VanDerveer's Stanford team posted a semifinal victory over Virginia, featuring sophomore guard Staley. VanDerveer guided the Cardinal to a 75-66 victory in that game on the way to the team's first national championship.

The two also joined forces to win a gold medal in the 1996 Atlanta Olympics, with VanDerveer serving as the head coach.

Just about the only thing the two haven't experienced is Staley getting the upper hand, either as a player or a coach, versus VanDerveer.

"I'm 0-fer," South Carolina coach Staley said. "I'm part of the 1,000 wins that (VanDerveer) has. I'm one of the defeated teams in that total win category. I mean, she's a hard win. She's been in these situations a number of times, and she definitely uses her experience against us."

Staley will get another chance on Friday when South Carolina (31-4) faces Stanford (32-5) in a national semifinal contest at the American Airlines Center.

"We're hoping that Dallas brings us a little bit of different luck," Staley said.

But it's not a lucky coincidence that the Gamecocks have reached this stage.

South Carolina punched its first ticket to the Final Four in 2015 before it fell to Notre Dame in the semifinals.

This season, the Gamecocks won the Southeastern Conference and tore through the Stockton Region to reach the Final Four.

VanDerveer has a steep challenge to continue her winning streak versus Staley, and the Stanford coach knows it.

"Dawn is extremely competitive," VanDerveer said. "She's a competitive person, coach, player. She's very intelligent. She's very passionate about basketball. I see all of these things, having coached her and known her for, I guess, about 30 years."

Staley also has perhaps the biggest individual star in this Final Four in junior forward A'ja Wilson, who averages 17.9 points and 7.4 rebounds.

"They have an elite player in A'ja Wilson," VanDerveer said. "They get her the ball. She is a big presence down low."

Stanford will counter with a balanced team that features a trio of double-digit scorers in forward Erica McCall (14.4 points per game) and guards Brittany McPhee (13.4) and Karlie Samuelson (12.8), as well as facilitator guard Marta Sniezek, who averages 4.4 assists.

"They've got the key ingredient to beating you," Staley said. "If you don't have a star, star player, you do it by committee. When you do it by committee, you have to play each committee member. You have to give them their own space. You don't have to double-team any one person, but you do have to prep for them top to bottom."

Along with teaming together on Team USA, another thing VanDerveer and Staley have in common is neither seems to be just happy to be at the Final Four.

The winner of the Stanford-South Carolina matchup will play the Connecticut-Mississippi State winner in the national championship game.

"It helps when you have experience at the Final Four," Staley said. "We feel different as a coaching staff. We feel better prepared to know what is expected. ... Although we're going to enjoy it, we're going to be better prepared for our players and our program, especially the ones that haven't experienced it."