Sports

South Carolina's Dawn Staley is the AP Coach of the Year for the 2nd time

CLEVELAND — (AP) — Dawn Staley did a masterful job guiding a young South Carolina team back to the Final Four with an undefeated record for the second straight season.

Staley was honored Thursday as The Associated Press women's college basketball Coach of the Year for the second time. She received 27 votes from the 35-member national media panel that votes on the AP Top 25 each week. She also won the award in 2020.

Staley joins an elite group of coaches that include Geno Auriemma (9), Muffet McGraw (4), Kim Mulkey (3) and Brenda Frese (2) who have won the AP award multiple times since it was first given in 1995.

Lindsay Gottlieb of Southern California, Felisha Legette-Jack of Syracuse and Scott Rueck of Oregon State tied for second with two votes each. Voting was done before the NCAA Tournament.

“I don't coach to win awards, I really don't,” Staley said. “I'm very, very satisfied with just being there for my players. ... I'm forever indebted to basketball for what it's given to me.”

Staley, who was presented the award alongside AP Player of the Year Caitlin Clark, thanked her own staff for all of their hard work helping the team go undefeated again.

South Carolina faces North Carolina State on Friday night in a national semifinal and is the overwhelming favorite to win its second title in three years and third overall, all since 2017. The Gamecocks are two wins away from completing the 10th undefeated season in NCAA Division I history.

“We had our fair share of rocky in the beginning and then as we continued throughout the season, the road got a little smoother and then obviously you’re going to face some adversity throughout the season, and this team being undefeated really is a shocker to me,” Staley said this week.

Staley has rebuilt the program into a power since she arrived in 2008 and last year's team was expected to add another championship until Iowa knocked off the Gamecocks in the Final Four. This season, Staley had to replace her entire starting lineup and still guided them back to the semifinals for a fourth consecutive year.

She's built a fanbase that has led the nation in attendance the past 10 years and in 2021 the school announced a new, seven-year contract that will pay her $2.9 million this season and grow to $3.5 million in the final season of 2027-28. She said then the $22.4 million deal should make an impact and perhaps lead to equity in the men's and women's games.

Along the way, Staley has become a voice of leadership and direction in the women's game. The former point guard is already the first Black coach to win two NCAA titles — success that has given Staley the platform to champion issues off the court. She continues to speak out about gender equity, diversity and opportunities for women.

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AP March Madness bracket: https://apnews.com/hub/ncaa-womens-bracket/ and coverage: https://apnews.com/hub/march-madness