Mutual respect between Dawn Staley, Yolett McPhee-McCuin carries over into NCAAs

South Carolina is one of just two No. 1 seeds remaining in the NCAA Tournament — and Yolett McPhee-McCuin’s Ole Miss squad is a big reason why.

Ole Miss upset No. 1 Stanford in the second round of the NCAA Tournament on Sunday. The eighth-seeded Rebels used their stifling defense to force Stanford into close misses at the rim. The Cardinal shot 10-of-31 on layup attempts.

McPhee-McCuin has spoken highly of South Carolina head coach Dawn Staley in the past and said she looks up to her, calling her a mentor.

“I’m just extremely happy for her,” Staley told reporters Friday inside Bon Secours Wellness Arena. “I think she’s got a pretty good bracket where she can defend. Her teams defend, and they find a way to put enough points on the scoreboard to win some basketball games.”

McPhee-McCuin — affectionately known as Coach Yo — has spoken about needing to notch signature wins in the SEC against USC, LSU and Tennessee. She hasn’t beaten any of those teams yet while at Ole Miss, but a win against Stanford stands as her most impressive victory to date.

The two coaches shared conversations when McPhee-McCuin first arrived at Ole Miss in 2018. She said she didn’t believe in “skipping steps” and that the Rebels would have to beat the lower-level teams in the SEC before contending in the standings with the conference’s elite.

“Even in year one and two, Dawn would always say, ‘Yo, you’re not gonna sneak me,’ ” McPhee-McCuin said during the SEC Tournament. “‘I’m telling you, I see you.’ I’m like, ‘I’m not even worried about you. I gotta beat the bottom. Right now, I’m at the bottom, so I gotta climb my way up. But I said when we do, then I’m gonna come after you.’”

Ole Miss nearly knocked off the Gamecocks in Oxford in February, leading by one point late in the fourth quarter before losing in overtime.

Staley reached out to McPhee-McCuin before the team’s rematch in the SEC Tournament, sending a text message directly after Ole Miss’ win against Texas A&M.

Prior to her stint with the Rebels, McPhee-McCuin coached at Jacksonville of the ASUN conference for five years. She posted a 94-63 record with the Dolphins and led the team to one NCAA Tournament appearance.

After Sunday’s win against Stanford, she told reporters that she had made the first contact with Ole Miss about coaching the Rebels. Staley was one of the first people she called when she was in the interview process.

McPhee-McCuin coached Ole Miss to 11 SEC wins this season, fourth in the conference and the most in her tenure.

“She wanted to coach in the Power Five,” Staley said. “She’s one that has started from the ground up, and she’s built up knowledge and she’s gained some friends along the way that helped mentor her in some areas.”

Mar 23, 2023; Seattle, Washington, USA; Old Miss Rebels head coach Yolett McPhee-McCuin answers a reporter’s question during a press conference at Climate Pledge Arena. Mandatory Credit: Stephen Brashear-USA TODAY Sports
Mar 23, 2023; Seattle, Washington, USA; Old Miss Rebels head coach Yolett McPhee-McCuin answers a reporter’s question during a press conference at Climate Pledge Arena. Mandatory Credit: Stephen Brashear-USA TODAY Sports

Staley and McPhee-McCuin are two of the four remaining head coaches in the tournament who are Black. Twelve of the remaining coaches are women.

Staley spoke on that diversity to the media on Friday, saying it was a good trend for the game.

“Giving women an opportunity to coach women and helping women navigate through life like they have navigated through life will allow your student-athletes a different experience than having a male coach.

“Nothing against male coaches, because if you want to come to the women’s game, obviously you have a desire and a passion to coach women.”

McPhee-McCuin’s Rebels face Louisville in the Sweet 16 on Friday (10 p.m., ESPN). Wins in the next two rounds for both South Carolina and Ole Miss would match the teams up for a third time this season in the Final Four.

The Gamecocks will face UCLA on Saturday (2 p.m., ESPN) to earn a spot in the Elite Eight.

South Carolina remains the team to beat in the SEC, but under McPhee-McCuin, Ole Miss looks to keep rising.

“She walked towards being a change agent for that program,” Staley said. “She’s a really good coach. She’s someone that loves her players and loves being where she is, and she stays current with what she’s doing.”