The No 1. South Carolina women’s basketball team emerged victorious in a physical Sweet 16 matchup, defeating No. 5 North Carolina 69-61 at the Greensboro Coliseum Complex on Friday night.
With the victory, the Gamecocks advanced to the Elite 8 for the third time in the past four NCAA tournaments.
“I'm proud of our players. I'm proud of our players for gutting it out," head coach Dawn Staley said. “We found ourselves in a two-possession game in the fourth quarter, and we bared down and won the game.”
South Carolina expected a physical game from the Tar Heels and got one, with both teams combining to commit 36 total fouls.
Although the Gamecocks were unable to attack the paint like against previous opponents, they adapted to the game and were able to hit outside shots, featuring 7-19 shooting from three-point range.
Staley said that the strategical change opened up the offense and relieved some pressure placed upon the team from previous games.
“North Carolina was committed to just clogging up the paint and forcing us to do something other than pass the ball down there and have Aliyah or any of our bigs score the ball, so I thought it was huge for us to come out and hit some shots,” Staley said.
The team’s dominance on the boards, 48 rebounds compared to North Carolina’s 33, led to a significant advantage in second-chance points. South Carolina scored 26 of its 69 points on second-chance opportunities, while North Carolina scored only six in similar situations.
Junior forward Aliyah Boston said that rebounding and continuing to attack the basket helped the team maintain a lead throughout the game.
“We had some height advantage, so we're just trying to crash the boards to give us an advantage,” Boston said.
Boston was one of the Gamecocks’ key contributors on offense and had one of her strongest performances of the season. Boston scored 28 points, grabbed 22 rebounds and shot 12-13 from the free throw line on her way to a 27th consecutive double-double.
Staley said Boston “showed up on the biggest stage” and delivered in the team’s biggest game.
“I thought she played focused. I thought she played like the National Player of the Year,” Staley said. “And that's what you do. When the game is on the line, you give them the ball and they perform.
Senior forward Victaria Saxton also maintained a dominant presence near the basket, earning a season-high 14 rebounds in addition to two blocks.
“That's what I do,” Saxton said. “I go out there and I do all the small things. I try to go get any rebound I can for the team, and just protect the ball.”
Junior guard Zia Cooke and senior guard Destanni Henderson added to the team’s offensive display with a combined 28 points.
With another victory in hand, Cooke said that she remains focused on winning the games that follow.
“It's March Madness. It's fun, but I'm really — I'm super locked in right now. We got three more," Cooke said. “I just want to execute and get it done.”
South Carolina will face off against No. 10 Creighton in the Elite 8 on Sunday. Tip-off is scheduled for 7 p.m., and the game will be broadcasted on ESPN.