Top-seeded South Carolina Gamecocks advance to Final Four

ALBANY, N.Y. — Coach Dawn Staley and her staff had a group hug on the sideline as the final seconds ticked away Sunday and her South Carolina Gamecocks got ready to celebrate what has become a tradition for them.

For the fourth year in a row, South Carolina is in the women’s Final Four. And for the second consecutive season, the Gamecocks go into the last weekend of the basketball season undefeated.

South Carolina, the No. 1 overall seed in the NCAA women’s tournament, defeated No. 3 seed Oregon State 70-58 in the Albany 1 Regional final. The Gamecocks are 36-0 and head to Cleveland hoping to win the program’s third national championship.

The Gamecocks, who previously won the NCAA title in 2017 and 2022, were big favorites to win it all last season, too, but were upset in the national semifinals by Iowa. Sunday, the halftime score was a little too close for comfort, with South Carolina leading just 37-33 after struggling from behind the 3-point line (2-12) in the first half.

But South Carolina’s depth has been one of its best assets, and that helped Sunday: Coming off the bench, freshman Tessa Johnson had a team-high 15 points, while sophomore Ashlyn Watkins had 8 points and a team-best 14 rebounds.

In the third quarter, the Gamecocks mixed success going inside to 6-foot-7 starting center Kamilla Cardoso — who was named the regional’s Most Outstanding Player — with better perimeter shooting from their guards and built up a 58-46 lead heading into the fourth quarter.

But Oregon State got to within 62-58 with 3 minutes, 53 seconds left. Then Johnson’s 3-point play at 3:29 gave the Gamecocks a little breathing room. Cardoso finished with 12 points and nine rebounds, while starting guard Bree Hall had 10 points.

For Oregon State (27-8), it was a strong NCAA tournament showing. The Beavers were picked 10th in the preseason poll in the last year for the Pac-12, yet finished fourth and then upset No. 2 seed Notre Dame on Friday to make the Elite Eight. Forward Raegan Beers led Oregon State with 16 points.

In South Carolina’s 79-75 Sweet 16 victory over Indiana on Friday, the Gamecocks led by as much as 22 points but had to battle off the Hoosiers to the buzzer. Sunday’s Elite Eight game was more even throughout, but in both cases, the Gamecocks had to execute late to win. The fact they did that should give them confidence heading into the national semifinals.

It is the sixth Final Four for Staley, who took over the South Carolina program in 2008-09 and has built it into a dynasty that has dominated the SEC the past decade. As a player, Staley led Virginia to three consecutive Final Fours (1990-92) but didn’t win the championship with the Cavaliers.

She had a successful post-collegiate playing career, which included eight seasons in the WNBA and three Olympic gold medals. She also coached Team USA to Olympic gold in 2021. Her program-building at South Carolina has changed the landscape of women’s college basketball.

After the close call against Indiana, Staley was asked about getting her team ready for Oregon State.

“It’s about just being able to play to the habits that you’ve created all season long,” Staley said. “And when they go haywire, you’re just trying to, in real time, make adjustments. That’s what it’s about at this stage of the game.

“So not a whole lot of screaming and yelling. Just kind of showing them what we need to do. I think they know. I think this moment will allow them to just rely on those habits.”

Source Link

Share with your friends!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *