February 18, 2022 | ESPN.com
DAWN STALEY STARTS the game against Stanford on the bench. Clad in a Burberry hoodie, the South Carolina women’s basketball coach claps and encourages the Gamecocks from her seated position, occasionally getting up to relay instructions or give a referee an earful. You know, as she does.
It’s a brisk December night in Columbia, just a few days before Christmas, and No. 1 South Carolina is hosting No. 2 and reigning national champion Stanford in a rematch of the 2021 national semifinals. The holiday cheer quickly dissipates in Colonial Life Arena as the Cardinal bury South Carolina under an 18-point deficit in the second quarter. Clutching a rolled-up piece of paper, Staley furiously points to the spots on the floor where she wants her players to go. Doubling as a stress ball and operating as an extension of her hand, this poor rolled-up tube is getting crushed underneath the pressure of Staley’s palm. South Carolina’s scars from the tournament loss a season ago might never heal, but a win on this night would certainly help. Though the scoreboard is increasingly making even that look unlikely.