basketball

South Carolina is back in the championship game with a win over Louisville

During the NCAA Women’s Basketball Tournament, South Carolina’s history coach Dawn Staley preached a message of consistency and pressure to her players: Get the thing.

And as often happens with Staley and her players, they listened.

South Carolina, the country’s top-ranked women’s basketball team, will receive another shot at a championship title after defeating fellow No. 1 seed Louisville, 72-59, at the Target Arena in Minneapolis Friday night. The Gamecocks will be the winners of UConn vs.

Louisville has tried and is trying to threaten South Carolina once again by using its speed and wealth of varied talent to leave the Gamcocks from time to time. Teams often found themselves in a tangled mess on the court as they fought for the ball. But the Cardinals could not penetrate South Carolina’s defensive wall, blocking Louisville players, stealing and dancing with the confidence of a team that has only lost twice this season.

Even double and triple teams could not stop the Gamecocks from making their way into the basket.

The Gamcocks lost Stanford by 1 point in the Final Four in 2021 and have been hungry for redemption and a second national title since 2017. South Carolina was ranked No. 1 in the Associated Press poll all season and one of its losses was a Surprise. Defeat in Kentucky at Buzzer in Southeastern Conference Tournament. But his defensive ability has already taken down the best opposition in the country earlier this season – including Connecticut and Stanford.

“Is there an edge? No, there is no advantage,” Staley said after the game. “When you play for a national championship, it’s the team that quickly gets to their habits and stays here.”

This run was a sweet tour of last year’s events, especially for Aliyah Boston, the Gamecocks midfielder 6-foot-5 forward who missed a last-second shot in last year’s Final Four that would have sent South Carolina into the championship. Games. Asked last weekend if she replays one of those moments for herself, her answer was a resounding no. “I’ve let it go since last season and we’re moving on,” she said.

Moved on she did. Boston, 20, used her tireless power around the basket to lead South Carolina with 23 points and 18 rebounds to secure her 29th double-double of the season and a single-season rebound record for South Carolina.

“We knew we were being tested and this was the hump we needed to achieve,” Boston said after the game.

But she did not carry her team alone. The Gamcocks came to rely on a core support system of rebounding skills by Victaria Saxton, who scored 10 points, the low and wide defense of Brea Beal, who shot 12, and the offensive flexibility of Zia Cooke, who 10, and Destanni Henderson, who shot 11.

South Carolina came into the game with Staley and Boston after they just won the Naismith Coach and Player of the Year awards. Staley, a Hall of Fame player and an Olympic gold medalist as a player and coach, began building the South Carolina women’s basketball program in 2008.

The Gamcocks have made 10 consecutive NCAA tournament appearances under Staley, not including the 2020 tournament that was canceled due to the coronavirus pandemic. Four of these appearances were Final Four Runs.

The Gamcocks opened with an early lead, but stumbled a bit in the second quarter as Louisville striker Emily Engstler was able to plow through the Gamcocks defense, with three consecutive layups giving the Cardinals a momentary lead before South Carolina took the lead. who has recovered from the break.

The Angler continued to shoot and finished with 18 points and 9 rebounds before being interrupted late. The loss marks the end of Angstler’s collegiate career, but she will likely be selected in the first round of next month’s WNBA draft.

When South Carolina regained its lead, it did so quickly and decisively. South Carolina Beal beat 5-foot-7 Hailey Van Lith, Louisville’s star guard and leading scorer, who scored just 2 points in the first half. She has scored at least 20 points in her four previous tournament games, but finished with 9 points on Friday night.

“Brea is an elite defender,” Staley said. “She’s so unassuming.”

South Carolina was able to extend its lead to 9 points in the final quarter of the game, thanks to consistent offense and an increasingly frustrated Cardinals defense.

When the Anglers failed and the Cardinals were unable to convert revenue into rebounds and points, South Carolina was able to clear its bench and rest its starters. Gamecocks fans started to stand up and their towels started to spin.

It was not a clear victory, but it was a decisive victory. South Carolina and Louisville had 15 sales per piece at the end of the game.

“We could never put them off because of their struggle and their competitiveness and their ability to hang there and defend and shoot and turn us around,” Staley said.

Henderson and her teammates have acknowledged that they “fell short” last year, but they plan to “take this moment,” she said, at least for now. “We are not done yet. We still have unfinished business.”

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