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Two Black women met in the championship game of a Power 5 conference tournament for the first time in NCAA Division I women's basketball history.
The SEC tournament final pitted No. 2 seed South Carolina, led by Dawn Staley, against 4-seed Georgia, led by Joni Taylor, on Sunday afternoon in Greensboro, North Carolina.
Black coaches meet in title game for first time
It is the first time in the SEC's history, dating back to 1980, that two Black coaches have met. And notably it is two Black women who are meeting there for the first time.
"When two Black head coaches are in the finals of the SEC, we are mirroring what the rest of the country can look like when you give Black women an opportunity to head some programs," Staley said after South Carolina clinched its spot with a 67-52 win over Tennessee on Saturday.
Staley has been a constant in this final game and won her sixth SEC tournament title as a coach behind a 67-62 win by South Carolina.
"My heart's full. It's full," Staley said in the post-game interview. "It's full because, you know, — and people say you're making it a race thing. It's not a race thing. It's an opportunity thing. An opportunity for Black women to be able to experience this. It means something. It looks a little different than in my coaching career to have someone Black that you're fighting for in a tournament, any championship."
Two other Black coaches have won Power 5 tournament conference titles in addition to Staley. Carolyn Peck coached Purdue to Big Ten titles in 1998 and '99, and Cynthia Cooper-Dyke coached Southern Cal to a Pac-12 title in 2014.
The milestone of the first Black coaches meeting in a Power 5 title game dates back to 1978, when the ACC women's tournament began. The Big Ten followed in 1995, the Big 12 in 1997 and the Pac-12 (formerly Pac-10) in 2002.
Gamecocks win 6th title in 7 years
South Carolina pulled away enough in the third quarter to provide a cushion against Georgia. It is their sixth title in seven years, joining trophies from 2015-18 and 2020. They were not the regular season SEC champions this year since they lost to Texas A&M on the final day of the regular season.
The Gamecocks are poised to be a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament and are currently ranked No. 7 in the nation. They ran perfectly through star center Aaliyah Boston, who finished with a game-high 27 points and 10 rebounds. She added four blocks and one steal. Her 10-for-12 mark from the free throw line was crucial in a game that came down to the final minutes.
Destanni Henderson scored 18 points with nine rebounds and three assists. She and Boston scored every point in the fourth quarter for South Carolina.
Zia Cooke drilled a 3-pointer at the first-half buzzer to tie the game at 35-35 and the team made 3-of-6 3-pointers while out-rebounding Georgia, 40-31.
Georgia poised to make noise in tournament
Taylor, named the conference's coach of the year on Tuesday, is still attempting to win her first SEC title as a coach. She is in her sixth season at the helm and celebrated a birthday on Sunday.
Her programs have exceeded expectations and this year finished with an 18-5 overall record, including 10-5 in regular season SEC play. They've defeated three teams ranked in the top 25 this year, including the program's first sweep of Tennessee since 1985.
The Bulldogs, ranked No. 16 in the nation, fell short of their first SEC tournament since 2001 but are in a good position to go deep into the NCAA tournament. The seniors provided the spark early and kept in it with the title-favorite Gamecocks after upending the tournaments No. 1 seed in the Aggies on Saturday.
Que Morrison led the team with 20 points and eight rebounds. She hit two of three 3-pointers, including one late that cut the lead to a bucket. Center Jenna Staiti had 10 points, five rebounds and an assist. The Bulldogs took fewer trips to the line compared to South Carolina and couldn't beat mostly Boston on the boards as much as they would have wanted.
They also had 15 turnovers, many like a traveling call in a one-possession, minutes-remaining game at poor times.
Georgia has won four SEC championships, all under former coach Andy Landers.
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