DALLAS - A quarter- century after Dawn Staley suffered perhaps one of the most painful moments in her brilliant career, the Hall of Famer from North Philadelphia and coach of South Carolina's women's basketball team is one step from winning an NCAA title that would be a first for both the Gamecocks and herself.
The last hurdle is a familiar foe out of the Southeastern Conference, Mississippi State (34-4), whom the Gamecocks (32-4) beat twice, including once for the SEC title.
It's not the matchup Gamecocks fans expected to see in the championship game at the American Airlines Center here Sunday night before an advance sellout of more than 19,000 fans.
But the Bulldogs shocked the world Friday night with a last-second shot in overtime to dethrone four-time defending champion Connecticut, ending the Huskies' 36-0 run on the season and record 111 straight victories overall.
Otherwise it would have been a chance at revenge for a road loss to the Huskies in February that became UConn's 100th straight victory.
On Friday night, Staley, whose team lost close to Notre Dame in the semifinals two years ago, got to settle an old debt by using a strong second half to oust Stanford, 62-53.
It was in 1992 that Staley and her Virginia teammates lost to the Cardinal, 66-65, in Los Angeles to bring her collegiate career and third straight shot in the Women's Final Four to an end.
Earlier in the week, Staley, who was recently named coach of the U.S. Olympic team for 2020, looked back, saying the loss "still stings."
The graduate of Dobbins Tech eventually recovered and went on to WNBA all-star status and Olympic gold medals.
In 2000, then-Temple athletic director Dave O'Brien coaxed the magical point guard to step into coaching, and her initial season resulted in the Owls' first winning record in a decade.
From there Temple began to dominate the Atlantic Ten and the Big Five and cracked the national rankings on a great run until South Carolina came calling in the spring of 2008.
By then, Staley said at a news conference Saturday, Temple's getting into the NCAAs regularly but getting bounced out in the first or second round became "frustrating."
"We took Temple as far as we could take it, with the players we could get . . . At tournament time, we always got out-talented. We outplayed people but they out-talented us."
Moving to the SEC, she said of the South Carolina opening, would allow her and her staff "to live out some dreams ... and that's to win a national championship."
The Gamecocks were appealing because the state was the home of her parents and "it's the platform we needed to compete and win national championships."
While Staley achieved almost everything possible, she always said as her coaching career blossomed that she would love getting a national title she never got as a player.
"But it all came together quite nicely in the fact we had some of the top players [A'ja Wilson, Aleighsa Welch, Tiffany Mitchell] in the country in our state and surrounding area. It made this dream come true a little bit quicker."
Eventually South Carolina became nationally ranked and Staley took the Gamecocks above the existing conference dynamo in Tennessee.
The karma suddenly feels as if it is in Staley's favor despite the Mississippi State upset.
"Personally I'd rather be playing someone else, to be honest," said Mississippi State coach Vic Schaefer. "They know us better than anybody. Obviously, we feel like we know them. I'd much rather be playing someone who doesn't know me quite well."