- Mechelle Voepel covers the WNBA, women’s college basketball, and other college sports for espnW. Voepel began covering women’s basketball in 1984, and has been with ESPN since 1996.
SAN ANTONIO — Four years ago in Dallas, coaches Dawn Staley and Vic Schaefer met for the national championship in women’s basketball. Tuesday — with Schaefer now guiding a different team — the rivals will face off again, this time for a spot in the Women’s Final Four.
South Carolina, the top seed in the Hemisfair Region, takes on No. 6 Texas (ESPN, 7 p.m. ET) in a matchup that both coaches know will have a lot of familiarity. They played each other 15 times when Schaefer was coach at Mississippi State, where he took over in 2012-13. Staley has been at South Carolina since 2008-09.
Her Gamecocks were 12-3 in those meetings, including winning the 2017 NCAA championship game and SEC tournament finals in 2016, ’17 and ’18. Schaefer’s victories against Staley came in the regular season.
“We’ve had our battles in the SEC, and Vic’s done a great job at Texas in his first year to get to this point,” Staley said. “It’s probably a great thing to have some familiarity with Texas and Vic, especially at this stage, because you get one day to prepare. He’s trying to outfox us, and we’re trying to outfox him.”
Schaefer, whose team upset No. 2 Maryland in the Sweet 16, said there’s strong mutual respect between Staley and him, despite their head-to-head competition on the court and in recruiting.
“She’s someone who’s been very successful,” Schaefer said. “And does it the right way.”
Both coaches transformed their SEC teams, taking them to the Final Four for the first time in program history. Staley’s Gamecocks also went to the 2015 Final Four, losing to Notre Dame in the national semifinals, and Schaefer’s Bulldogs went to the 2018 national championship game, where they fell to the Fighting Irish.
Schaefer, a native of Texas, opted to return to his home state when the Longhorns’ job opened in April 2020. He previously had won a national championship as an assistant at Texas A&M in 2011.
Texas is a traditional power in women’s basketball, but the Longhorns haven’t been to the Final Four since 2003. They won their national championship in 1986. Schaefer came with the stated goal of updating both of those things.
Tuesday, they’ll play to see who stays in San Antonio, both led by 6-foot-5 post players: South Carolina sophomore Aliyah Boston and Texas junior Charli Collier.
“I always look forward to playing Vic because of what he puts into his scouting reports, his game-planning and his scheming,” Staley said. “It’s good to know what you’re going to face because you’ve seen it so many different times.”
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