South Carolina will face North Carolina in Sweet 16 matchup Sunday
After already sending two teams packing during the NCAA women’s basketball tournament, the Gamecocks will look to delay their flight back to Columbia for at least a few more days.
Now traveling to Stanford, Ca., South Carolina (29-4, 14-2 SEC) will face off against North Carolina (26-9, 10-6 ACC) for the second time this season. But this time the stakes are much higher, and junior forward Aleighsa Welch wants it to be known that the team is not done yet.
“We’ve still gotta do what we’ve gotta do,” Welch said. “We’re not satisfied with making it to the Sweet 16, you know we want to make a deeper run in this tournament. We can’t really get caught up in the fact that we’re here. This isn’t where we want our season to end in the Sweet 16.”
Welch, who is advancing to the second Sweet 16 of her collegiate career, carried much of the offensive load for South Carolina when they fell 74-66 to the Tar Heels. The seasoned veteran scored 23 points and brought down six rebounds, both team-highs for the game.
The 74 points scored by North Carolina is the most head coach Dawn Staley’s squad has given up this year. Four Tar Heels reached double-digit point figures, including freshman sensation Diamond DeShields, who scored 17 points.
DeShields, a guard out of Norcross, Ga., leads the team in scoring, averaging 17.9 points per game.
After a subpar 15-point performance against UT Martin, DeShields exploded for 24 points, 12 rebounds and three steals against Michigan State.
South Carolina has a history of shutting down leading scorers, holding Oregon State’s Sydney Wiese to a mere eight points more than six points shy of her 14.3 average.
“With Wiese, you just have to maintain pressure on her,” Staley said after South Carolina’s 78-69 victory over Oregon State. “I thought Khadijah [Sessions], I thought Tiffany Mitchell, Olivia Gaines, all of them who had a turn on guarding her, they were all different looks.”
As with Wiese, South Carolina and its eighth-ranked scoring defense will assuredly have a plan to slow down DeShields Sunday night.
A potential postseason matchup with Stanford awaits South Carolina should the Gamecocks get past the Tar Heels. The matchup also hinges on whether or not the Cardinal beat Penn State Sunday afternoon.
Two years ago, Stanford ended South Carolina’s postseason run in the Sweet 16, handing them a 76-60 defeat. Welch, who was a freshman in 2012, managed eight points and 12 boards in the loss.
This time, should the two teams meet, Stanford will host the Gamecocks on their own home court.
“Yeah, I think it sucks,” Staley said while chuckling in response to a question regarding playing at Stanford.
The home-court advantage puts the No. 1 seed Gamecocks at a disadvantage since the NCAA’s decision not to allow Columbia to become a regional site pushed the tournament to Stanford.
Tipoff against North Carolina is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. EST Sunday evening, and the game will be available on ESPN2 as well as WatchESPN.