Sep 4, 2013
Three days away from the start of Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame Enshrinement Weekend for South Carolina women’s basketball head coach Dawn Staley, GamecocksOnline.com is counting down her top five on-court memories.
Defeat Tennessee to Reach First Final Four, March 24, 1990
If revenge is a dish best served cold, then the Virginia Cavaliers enjoyed the finest dish ever made when they turned a 33-point loss to Tennessee in the 1989 NCAA Tournament Sweet 16 into a 79-75 victory over the fourth-ranked Lady Vols to earn a spot in the 1990 NCAA Final Four in Knoxville, Tenn. It was the first Final Four trip in Virginia women’s basketball history and came from the will a determination of, among other players, then-sophomore Dawn Staley.
With a pair of All-Americans on each team, the matchup had the Norfolk, Va., crowd buzzing, while back in Knoxville, they were likely anticipating a triumphant return home of the defending national champion Lady Vols, which had played in the last four Final Fours. But the Cavaliers were fueled by the fire of the previous season’s defeat and were no longer intimidated by the vaunted Tennessee name on their opponents’ jerseys.
The Lady Vols had to rally late in regulation to force the overtime period, tying the game with 23 seconds remaining, but Virginia seized the momentum in the extra period, largely on the back of its consensus national player of the year, Staley, who scored six of the team’s nine points in overtime. Defensively, the Cavaliers did not allow a single field goal in the final period.
Tennessee scored the first point of the extra period, but Staley’s steal and layup 90 seconds later put the Cavaliers up 72-71. Another UT turnover ended in a pair of free throws from Staley, which Tennessee’s Tonya Edwards answered with two of her own to draw within 74-73. Three-time All-American Tammi Reiss missed a jumper, but Tekshia Ward grabbed the rebound for the Cavaliers and scored the game’s most important and her only three points of the outing with a put-back and ensuing free throw for a 77-73 Virginia lead.
After Edwards hit a pair of free throws for the Lady Vols to cut their deficit to two with 46 seconds to play, Virginia head coach Debbie Ryan put the ball in Staley’s hands – at the player’s vehement request in the huddle. (“Her exact words I can’t repeat,” Ryan said after the game.) Staley’s playground-honed one-on-one moves worked perfectly in the 1-4 offensive set as she held the ball until there were less than 10 seconds on the shot clock. Making her move on the defender, she rose for a jump shot with Edwards in her face and watched the ball fall through the net with just 20 seconds left to play.
Staley played 43 of the game’s 45 minutes, finishing with 25 points, nine rebounds, three assists and three steals. The Cavaliers lost in the semifinals to eventual national champion Stanford, but had set a new school record with 29 wins and a final national rank of No. 4 in the USA Today Coaches Poll.
Staley Hall of Fame Countdown: College
Staley Hall of Fame Countdown: USA Basketball
Staley Hall of Fame Countdown: U.S. Professional Basketball
Staley Hall of Fame Countdown: Undefeated in High School
Staley Hall of Fame Countdown: 3OT Win at NC State