RUNNIN’ IT BACK IN TEXAS: South Carolina star seniors Zia Cooke and Aliyah Boston recall the No. 1-ranked Gamecocks’ euphoric Final Four ending in Dallas six years ago
DALLAS — Zia Cooke remembers all too well what happened.
Aliyah Boston, too.
When asked on Thursday if they recall what transpired the last time South Carolina’s women’s basketball program played a postseason game here, the Gamecocks’ 1-2 punch essentially fielded the question as if they expected it.
WHAT: The NCAA Women’s Final
WHEN: March 31-April 2
WHERE: American Airlines Center, Dallas, Texas
TIMES: 6 and 8:30 p.m. CDT (March 31); 2:30 p.m. CDT (April 2)
TELEVISION: ESPN and ABC
TO BUY TICKETS: https://www.ticketmaster.com/womensmarchmadness
First up: Boston whom, while taking questions from reporters during South Carolina’s half-hour media availability session, acknowledged that while she was excited the Gamecocks had captured their first national championship in school history with a 67-55 win over a Mississippi State team that snapped mighty Connecticut’s 111-game undefeated streak two days prior, said she was mostly impressed by Dawn Staley’s admirable style of coaching.
“I definitely remember watching that game and it was pretty exciting,” Boston, last year’s Naismith National Player of the Year, said. “Thinking about my decision and that game specifically, it was just about South Carolina is all about. “Them winning a national title was cool because I knew I also wanted to do that and play under coach Staley.”
Cooke, on the other hand, sounded as if she was completely sold on the Gamecocks the moment confetti spilled out of the American Airlines Center rafters six years ago.
“After I watched that game, I told my dad, ‘I wanna go there. I wanna go there,’” said Cooke, grinning from ear-to-ear. “So, of course, I had to weigh my options. But when I saw them win a national championship and just seeing the type of coach that coach Staley was and the type of players she was recruiting definitely made me want to come here.”
Ever since Cooke and Boston set foot on campus in Columbia four years ago — or two years after South Carolina’s national crown in North Texas — they have been as good as advertised.
And, if the dynamic senior duo could manufacture two more impressive performances on college basketball’s grandest stage when No. 1 seed South Carolina (36-0) takes on No. 2 seed Iowa (30-6) in Friday’s Final Four second national semifinal game at 8:30 p.m. CDT in the AAC, there’s little reason to believe why the defending national champion Gamecocks won’t be singing in unison, One Shining Moment.
CREAM OF THE CROP
To their credit, Cooke and Boston have enjoyed remarkable collegiate careers that, by all accounts, have helped enable South Carolina to remain a perennial national power since Staley took over 15 years ago. Most importantly, the possibility exists that other top-tier recruits could become inspired by the Gamecocks’ supremacy, which could subsequently fuel their desire to commit to the program, thus continue what seems to be shaping up as a dynasty in Columbia.
Such a paramountcy, of course, started six years ago in Dallas.
At the time, Cooke and Boston were highly sought-after five-star high school recruits.
Cooke was the nation’s No. 1-ranked point guard at Rogers High in Toledo, Ohio. Boston, meanwhile, was the nation’s top-ranked post player at Worcester (Mass.) Academy.
South Carolina, it seems, was high on their radar — and vice versa — and that was evident by its national title coming-out-party when the two were just high school sophomores.
Highly sought-after blue chippers, to put it more precisely.
Six years removed from witnessing Staley’s sustained success come full circle, Cooke and Boston appeared relaxed Thursday morning once they found their way to the Final Four podium, where they collectively reminisced on their collegiate careers, a four-year run that includes a combined 93-6 record, two conference titles, and one national title.
As South Carolina aims to extend its undefeated streak to 43 games and become the 10th program in NCAA Division I women’s basketball history to run the table to win the national title — the first team since UConn seized back-to-back championships in 2015 and 2016 — Cooke realizes regardless of how this weekend plays out, playing alongside Boston and for Staley undoubtedly was a life-altering experience.
Of course, so will winning another national title in the very same place the Gamecocks captured their first one.
“I think pressure can either make or break you,” Cooke, South Carolina’s leading scorer, said. “So I just wanna use the pressure I have in the best way possible to go out there and play hard. But it will definitely be an emotional moment, knowing this will be our last time playing together. But we’re trying to keep our focus to the side and focus on handling business now.”
Like Cooke, Boston — a three-time First-Team All-American and the presumptive No. 1 overall pick in the April 10 WNBA Draft — said she’s appreciative of the immeasurable impact Staley has had on her life as her collegiate career officially comes to an end sometime this weekend.
“Coach is a legend,” Boston said. “That’s just what she is. And for us to be coached by her, that is something special. She’s taught not to get too high or too low because staying balanced is the most important thing…being able to compartmentalize what’s happening, but be focused and be ready to step out there on the floor.”
At least two more times, she anticipates.
With the latter one ending with the hoisting of another national title trophy, coupled with confetti spilling out of the rafters in the process.
Just like they witnessed six years ago.
Same extraordinary conclusion.
Andre Johnson is the award-winning Founder and Publisher for Making Headline News. A 2000 graduate of the University of Memphis School of Journalism and a former staff reporter of sports for the Memphis Commercial Appeal newspaper, Johnson covers the NBA Southwest Division from Dallas, Texas. To reach Johnson, send email to firstname.lastname@example.org or to email@example.com. Also, follow him on Twitter @AJ_Journalist or Instagram at @makingheadlinenews.
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