The No. 1 seed Gamecock women’s basketball team advanced to the Final Four Tuesday night, following a 62-34 win over the No. 6 seed Texas Longhorns.
This is the team’s third Final Four appearance of all time, and all of them in the last six years under head coach Dawn Staley.
South Carolina dominated the Longhorns throughout the game on both ends of the court.
The Gamecocks held Texas to 23% shooting for the game and 20% from the 3-point line. South Carolina dominated the glass and overwhelmed the Longhorn drivers at the rim, blocking 14 shots and grabbing 14 more rebounds than Texas.
On the offensive side, South Carolina shot 44% for the game and 90% from the free throw line. The team shot 43% from the 3-point line, but only took seven attempts. The Gamecocks got in the paint with ease, shying away from the arc for more high-percentage looks.
The Gamecocks took control of the game right from the start. They started the game 5-5 from the field and outscored Texas 10-2 in the first three minutes of the game. Junior forward Victaria Saxton came out with the hot hand scoring 8 of the team’s first 10 points.
The South Carolina defense forced the Longhorns to take uncomfortable shots. The team held Texas to 7 points in the first quarter on 3-16 shooting. Rim protection was a factor in shutting down the Longhorns' offense. The Gamecocks totaled four blocks in the opening quarter.
Texas found some offensive power in the second quarter, pulling their shooting percentage up to 50%. However, they could not stop the Gamecocks on defense. South Carolina scored 19 points during the quarter.
By halftime, the Gamecocks held a 15-point lead on 16-28 shooting. The team scored 24 of its 37 points in the paint. They avoided the 3-point shot in the first half, attempting only one half-court shot by the end of the half.
Sophomore guard Zia Cooke had a big half, scoring 13 points. She also grabbed two rebounds and got two assists.
Coming out of halftime, the South Carolina offense started to stall. They went cold from the floor, shooting 1-9 to start the half.
The Gamecocks' defense locked down Texas at the end of the third. Then, during the fourth quarter, it did not let the Longhorns score a single point, marking the first scoreless quarter in NCAA Women's Tournament history.
“I really didn’t realize that they didn’t score in the fourth quarter,” Staley said. “We were a team that was driven to be where we are right now, and it's just — they wanted to go to a Final Four, they want to win a national championship.”
Sophomore forward Laeticia Amihere had a near triple-double with 10 points, eight rebounds and nine blocks. Cooke scored a game-high 16 points.
After the game, Cooke said “it’s very surreal” that she will be playing in the Final Four.
“I feel like our work isn’t done yet; I don’t want to get my hopes up too high,” Cooke said. “But I’m ready for it.”
South Carolina punched its ticket to the Final Four in a dominant fashion. Staley said she feels the team has what it takes to go all the way.
“This team is playing some of their best basketball at the right time, and for all the people that doubted this moment, you can come on back, you know. We always got room on the bandwagon for you,” Staley said.
The Gamecocks will face No. 1 seed Stanford on Friday at 6 p.m. on ESPN for a shot at the National Championship.