Gamecocks' Dawn Staley among coach of year finalists

No team has maintained a grip on the No. 1 ranking for as many weeks as South Carolina this season, so coach Dawn Staley already stands apart from her peers in at least one regard.

Staley also is now one step closer to doing something unprecedented in men's or women's college basketball, winning both the national coach and player of the year awards.

Staley is one of 15 remaining candidates for the 2020 Naismith Women's Coach of the Year, according to the award's late-season watch list announced Wednesday by the Atlanta Tipoff Club. She was the Naismith Women's Player of the Year in both 1991 and 1992 while competing for Virginia.

No person has won both Naismith awards. The men's player of the year award began in 1969, while the women's followed in 1983. Both coaching awards date to 1987.

Staley, who could win her second national championship at South Carolina and will coach the United States in this summer's Olympics, isn't the only finalist with a shot at history.

Iowa coach Lisa Bluder is the reigning award winner and again made the list of finalists after guiding Iowa through the transition following the graduation of Megan Gustafson, the 2019 Naismith Women's Player of the Year. The Hawkeyes are 21-5 and No. 19 in the AP poll.

Bluder would join Geno Auriemma and Muffet McGraw as the award's only back-to-back winners.

Auriemma is also among the finalists this season. His eight Naismith awards are more than any other coach, the two most recent coming in 2016 and 2017.

Baylor's Kim Mulkey and Stanford's Tara VanDerveer are the other former winners among this year's finalists. VanDerveer would join Auriemma, McGraw and former Tennessee coach Pat Summitt as the only coaches with at least three awards, while Mulkey would become the sixth coach to win more than once.

The Pac-12 leads all conferences with five finalists, VanDerveer joined by Arizona's Adia Barnes, UCLA's Cori Close, Oregon's Kelly Graves and Oregon State's Scott Rueck.

The other finalists are DePaul's Doug Bruno, Gonzaga's Lisa Fortier, NC State's Wes Moore, Northwestern's Joe McKeown, South Dakota's Dawn Plitzuweit and Louisville's Jeff Walz.

The candidates will be cut to 10 semifinalists and four finalists before the winner is announced April 4 during the Final Four.