(AP) – Jacksonville coach Yolett McPhee-McCuin would not take no for an answer, not when it came to learning basketball from one of the game's greatest competitors in Dawn Staley.
''She is one who, if she wants you to be her mentor, whether you say yes or no, you're going to be her mentor because she's pretty persistent,'' a smiling Staley said Thursday, a day before the 16th-seeded Dolphins play their first NCAA Tournament game against her top-seeded South Carolina team in Columbia.
Jacksonville (22-10) will be playing its first NCAA game against Final Four favorites South Carolina (31-1).
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McPhee-McCuin met Staley when she was a player for Rhode Island in 2004 and Staley was coach at Temple.
The Jacksonville coach chuckles at her relentless characterization, saying the relationship developed naturally over time as Staley graciously gave her encouragement and advice at each stop from junior college to major school assistant to first-time NCAA Tournament head coach.
''We've had a relationship for over a decade,'' McPhee-McCuin said. ''A lot of what I do at this program, I model after what she's done with this program and at Temple. Not step for step, but definitely the how and the why.''
McPhee-McCuin is excited and determined to bring her Atlantic Sun Conference champions to play against her mentor.
''There's never been an occasion where I reached out and she hadn't picked up,'' McPhee-McCuin said. ''She just wants to see other young coaches be successful.''
Although, just not this weekend.
The Gamecocks have been on a season long mission to return to the Final Four and win a national championship. Staley has already soaked in the analysts buzz that her Gamecocks don't have what it takes to bring down three-time defending champion and overall top seed UConn.
''I believe we have enough on our roster to get it done,'' Staley said.
South Carolina's success usually starts with A'ja Wilson (16.4 points per game) and Tiffany Mitchell (15.0), but the Gamecocks also hang their hat on defense. They hold opponents to 34.9 percent shooting, 12th-best among tournament teams.
Only top-ranked Connecticut handed South Carolina a loss this season. The Gamecocks wouldn't get a rematch with the Lady Huskies until the national championship game, an opportunity they were deprived of last season after losing to Notre Dame by a point in the Final Four.
Jacksonville comes in having won eight straight games but its two experiences against ranked competition this season didn't go well. The Dolphins lost to South Florida and Florida State by a combined 39 points.
Sherranda Reddick leads Jacksonville with 12.4 points per game, but second-leading scorer Briona Brown's production is often more telling. The Dolphins are 18-3 when she scores at least eight points and 1-6 otherwise.
The winner will play No. 8 seed George Washington or ninth-seeded Kansas State.