Dawn Staley timeout for UCLA player injury heralded as moment of sportsmanship

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UCLA women’s basketball coach Cori Close was, naturally, disappointed after her team’s season ended Saturday with a Sweet 16 loss to South Carolina.

But that didn’t stop her from praising USC coach Dawn Staley for what Close described as a revealing moment of sportsmanship and class amid USC’s 59-43 win.

South Carolina was leading UCLA 46-30 late in the third quarter at Bon Secours Wellness Arena when Emily Bessoir, one of the Bruins’ starting forwards, was hurt while battling with USC’s Aliyah Boston for a rebound after a missed shot.

Bessoir remained under the basket, rolling around in pain, as South Carolina advanced the ball up the court into a clear advantage — five offensive players against four defensive players. A nearby referee had noticed Bessoir’s injury but did not call an injury timeout.

So the SEC Coach of the Year took things into her own hands: Instead of pushing to extend USC’s 16-point lead against a woman-down UCLA defense, Staley called a 30-second timeout at the 1:22 mark of the third quarter so Bessoir could get medical attention.

“That’s exactly what it showed: her class and her global view of the game and what was most important in that moment,” Close said. “She did call that timeout only because of Emily being down. … Right after the play, I just turned to her and I just said, ‘Thank you, Dawn,’ and she acknowledged it.”

Close and Staley have a strong professional relationship. Outside of coaching at their respective schools for well over a decade apiece, they’ve also overlapped within the Women’s Basketball Coaches Association, which represents NCAA coaches. (Close is the current president.)

“I mean, I think these kind of moments in games, they reveal people’s character,” Close said. “And I think it just revealed a layer of her character, of what she deems most important, and that’s always the kids.”

ESPN’s broadcast team also noted Staley’s timeout after initially being confused on whether Staley or an official called for time after Bessoir’s apparent thigh injury. Speaking postgame, Staley confirmed she called the timeout exclusively so Bessoir could get checked out.

“I mean, I don’t like to see players go down in any situation,” Staley said. “If we can control the situation, we can get (help) — you never know what type of injury it is, so you want to get medical attention over to them as quickly as possible. It was the right thing to do. It was the right thing to do to make sure the young lady was OK.”

After leading 25-15 at halftime, South Carolina outscored UCLA 25-15 in the third quarter to build up an insurmountable lead and eventually cruise into the Elite Eight.

South Carolina, the No. 1 overall seed in the bracket and reigning national champion, will play Maryland on Monday (7 p.m., ESPN) for a Final Four berth.

Close was already a fan of the 35-0 Gamecocks, describing them after the game as perhaps the best defensive and rebounding team she’s ever coached against. But Staley’s in-game sportsmanship may have taken her South Carolina admiration to a new level.

Thankfully for UCLA, Bessoir’s injury wasn’t too serious: She subbed back into the game at the start of the fourth quarter, played four minutes and finished having played 15 minutes and scored six points with three rebounds.

Staley said calling a timeout was simply the right thing to do.

“I know Cori,” Staley said. “I would have done it for anybody, though, but I know Cori well, and I know the type of coach and person that she is. She would have done it — she would have done the same thing had one of our players went down.”