Unbelievable. Two of the most dynamic players in women’s basketball have only faced each other five times as opponents? And never teamed together?
Yeah, Cynthia Cooper-Dyke just turned 50. But her stellar playing career spanned so many decades, it’s hard to believe the Olympian didn’t team with another Olympic star with longevity in Dawn Staley, 43. Or at least had some epic battles as professionals. Yet, it’s true from what I could research.
Southern California’s game against South Carolina on Monday is the first time since 2003 Cooper-Dyke and Staley will play each other. And this time it’s as coaches. In the WNBA, the pair played each other five times because Staley began her professional career in the defunct ABL. Cooper-Dyke averaged 25.5 points in winning the first two matchups in Staley’s first WNBA season in 1999 and was 4-1 overall against Staley’s Charlotte Sting.
Flash forward to present time and the Trojans hired Cooper-Dyke in April to replace former head coach Michael Cooper (who was recently hired by the Atlanta Dream). Staley is in her sixth season with the Gamecocks, looking for win No. 99 at the Galen Center on Monday.
The matchup tips at 5pm (PST) on the Pac-12 Networks.
It’s confusing, but Staley’s USC is ranked 17th in the nation. Cooper-Dyke’s USC at 3-1 is off to its best start since the 1998-99 season. So, the game’s best headlines circle the coaches, who are enshrined in the Naismith Memorial Hall of Fame. Cooper-Dyke was the Class of 2010 while Staley was honored in September.
The Gamecocks (6-0) and Trojans haven’t faced each other as NCAA Division I programs, either. The sole matchup was in March 1980 in the AIAW tournament — two years before Cooper-Dyke’s freshman season at Southern California. Then-No. 6 South Carolina defeated USC 70-60 in LA.
Flash forward, again, and while South Carolina is ranked and advanced to the NCAA tourney’s second-round last season, it’s a fairly young team that will face Southern Cal on Monday. The Gamecocks are led by sophomore G Tiffany Mitchell, a member of the All-SEC All-Freshman team last season, and junior F Aleighsa Welch. The latter ranks fifth in the SEC in rebounding (9.5), eighth on the offensive boards (3.8) to start the season.
Expectations are high for the Trojans every season but Cooper-Dyke remains the last to really achieve anything for the Trojans when she led USC to the 1984 NCAA championship. The Trojans haven’t been to the NCAA tournament since 2006, Michael Cooper claiming his 2010 team was snubbed by the selection committee.
Still, Southern Cal could prove to be South Carolina’s first test of the season. Tonight’s game is the Trojans’ second consecutive matchup against a ranked opponent. The seasoned squad, featuring All-Pac-12 senior F Cassie Harberts, lost 82-51 at No. 20 Oklahoma State on Friday. The Trojans had to learn about the importance of a solid start after being down 26 points in the opening half against the Cowgirls.
One thing is certain, as competitive as Cooper-Dyke is, she’ll have the team prepared to play. And as competitive as Staley is, she’ll draw even more fire in looking to make up for those four losses to Cooper-Dyke in the WNBA…even if the rare rematch has to be as coaches.