South Carolina’s NCAA Tournament run halted by UNC in Sweet 16
Sunday night’s clash with the North Carolina Tar Heels had plenty of storylines to follow.
UNC was the first team that beat South Carolina women’s basketball this season. Round two Sunday night had higher stakes with the fact that the winner earned a spot in the Elite Eight of the NCAA Tournament.
The Gamecocks needed no extra motivation, but motivation wasn’t enough Sunday night, as the No. 4-seed Tar Heels ended top-seeded South Carolina’s season with a final score of 65-58.
“It’s disappointing,” head coach Dawn Staley said. “But I’m still proud of the effort.”
The Gamecocks’ finish the 2013-14 campaign with a final record of 29-5.
North Carolina was in control early and often Sunday night. In fact, the Tar Heels never trailed in the contest, and they built a lead as large as 12 points with around three minutes to go in the first half.
UNC’s freshman star Diamond DeShields spearheaded the Tar Heel effort, finishing the game with 19 points to lead the team.
South Carolina’s own first-year phenom, Alaina Coates, did all she could in the loss, registering another double-double with 22 points and 11 rebounds, also adding four blocks to her stat line.
Two other Gamecocks scored in double-figures Sunday, with sophomore guard Tiffany Mitchell turning in 11 points and junior forward Aleighsa Welch contributing 10. Welch did her part on the glass as well, hauling in the second-most rebounds on the team with eight.
Although she was far from satisfied with the early exit from the tournament, Welch said South Carolina’s historic season is encouraging for the future.
“We exceeded a lot of people’s expectations outside of our locker room,” she said. “We definitely weren’t surprised to get to this point. We wanted to get further, but I think a lot of people didn’t expect us to be the team we were this year.”
Despite North Carolina’s fast start, South Carolina refused to go down without a fight. After finishing the first half down 29-21, the Gamecocks outscored UNC 37-36 in the second period.
“We’ve got a resilient group,” Staley said. “We probably played one of the worst halves that we’ve played, so we knew the second half would be an upward swing for us.”
South Carolina made a late push and the Gamecocks looked to be in business when a Coates free throw cut the Tar Heel lead to just three points with under two minutes to play in the game. But North Carolina wouldn’t let it get any closer than that.
South Carolina’s trip to the Sweet 16 in this year’s tourney was its second in three seasons, and the Gamecocks’ No. 1 seed was the highest ever for the program.
Only one senior will graduate from the current South Carolina roster, and both SEC Player of the Year Tiffany Mitchell and SEC Freshman of the Year Alaina Coates have more than one season left in their careers in Columbia.
Staley said no one is complacent with the Gamecocks’ loss Sunday night, but added that it will be just a little bit more fuel to the fire come next season.
“The future’s bright,” Staley said. “What we were able to accomplish this year, with the players that we have coming in, I think the combination of the two will allow us to get back to a place like this.”