Dawn Staley, Yolett McPhee-McCuin meet in top-25 showdown as sisters in Christ

The top-ranked South Carolina women’s basketball team is hosting a top-25 opponent Thursday night, just not the one the Gamecocks expected. On Sunday night, it was announced South Carolina was canceling its nonconference matchup with UConn and playing Ole Miss instead.

The Gamecocks and Rebels were supposed to meet Jan. 2, but COVID-19 issues in the Ole Miss program caused the game to be postponed.

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The matchup features teams with a combined 35-3 record (11-2 in SEC play) and led by Black women who are strong in their faith.

Yolett McPhee-McCuin’s Rebels entered the AP poll this week for the first time in 15 years, coming in at No. 24. They are coming off a 63-54 road victory over then-No. 23 Kentucky on Sunday.

At 17-2 overall and 5-1 in conference, Ole Miss is on track for its first 20-win season since 2006-07. That was also the last time the program finished above .500 in conference play or made the NCAA Tournament.

McPhee-McCuin is in her fourth season in Oxford after engineering an impressive turnaround at Jacksonville University. She joined the Sports Spectrum Podcast last year to discuss her faith journey and the role it plays in how she approaches coaching.

“I think for me, just really locking in on, you know, youโ€™re a child of God, youโ€™re flawed, He died for our sins,โ€ McPhee-McCuin said on the podcast. โ€œHow can you show appreciation to your Maker for giving you these opportunities? And I constantly think and talk about that.”

Staying connected to God is key for McPhee-McCuin as she spends so much time pouring into her players and family.

“There are times in a season where you may lose faith,โ€ she said on the podcast. โ€œYou may lose hope. And when hope is gone, hate creeps in. So, I try to fill myself up with the Word and His promises to me as much as possible.”

Meanwhile, Staley has turned South Carolina into one of the premier programs in the country, reaching the Final Four three times and winning National Coach of the Year twice. The Gamecocks won their first national championship in 2017 and were No. 1 in the final AP poll of the 2019-20 season cut short by the pandemic.

South Carolina has held the No. 1 spot in the AP poll for all of this season, which has featured eight wins over ranked opponents and an 18-1 record.

Shortly after having the NCAA Tournament canceled in which her team would’ve been the favorite, Staley’s sister was diagnosed with leukemia in May 2020. Then her debut as the head coach of the U.S. Olympic women’s basketball team got postponed.

The unfortunate series of events only served to strengthen her relationship with God.

โ€œItโ€™s obviously Godโ€™s work, all of it. So you can stay sane [with faith], because you can lose it without understanding why things are happening,โ€ Staley said in May 2021. โ€œI refuse to ask God, โ€˜Why?โ€™ Itโ€™s already been written. Itโ€™s about how we deal with it.โ€

She did eventually lead the Olympic team to a gold medal, and thanked God after doing so.

Thursday night’s Ole Miss-South Carolina game tips off at 6 p.m. ET and will be broadcast on ESPN.

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