The No. 1 seed South Carolina women’s basketball team will finish its trip to Greensboro Sunday night when it meets No. 10 seed Creighton in the Elite 8.
Head coach Dawn Staley said the team is “super excited” to be playing at this stage of the tournament again, especially against an opponent like the Blue Jays.
“We’re excited about playing Creighton,” Staley said. “I think they’re doing a tremendous job at beating people the way they play, and they force you to play a style of play that most aren’t used to playing.”
South Carolina was previously forced to make changes to its offense ahead of Friday’s Sweet 16 matchup against No. 5 seed North Carolina. The team did so with success, defeating the Tar Heels 69-61.
Heading into the matchup, Creighton will have an incentive to pack the paint and prevent junior forward Aliyah Boston and senior forward Victaria Saxton from having a big impact. Last game Boston scored 28 points and grabbed 22 rebounds while Saxton added 14 rebounds of her own.
As a result, Staley said it will be important for the Gamecocks’ guards to play a big role in orchestrating the team’s offense.
“I think (Creighton) will pack it in, and they’ll force us to take some shots from the outside, and we still will have to utilize our advantage,” Staley said.
Staley said playing good defense will also be important against an opponent with such a unique playing style.
“Defensively, it’s going to be super important that we give them one attempt at the basket,” Staley said. “If they’re able to tip the ball out, and we got to reset our defense over a 40-minute period — having to run around in their system and guarding them — it’ll be a really long night for us.”
Creighton heads into the matchup as one of the hottest teams in women’s basketball, having beaten No. 7 seed Colorado, No. 2 seed Iowa and No. 3 Iowa State to reach the Elite 8.
The Blue Jays’ offense focuses heavily on three-point shooting, attempting 26 long-range shots on average through its first three NCAA tournament games.
Like Staley, junior guard Zia Cooke said that defense will be a significant factor in determining which team will advance to the next round.
“They have great shooters. They’re super aggressive, so we are preparing ourselves for that,” Cooke said. “They have some great offensive sets that we're trying to prepare for. We just know defense is what's going to win the game for us.”
Despite Creighton’s lower seed, senior guard Destanni Henderson said rankings are not a factor in the Gamecocks’ approach.
“I just feel like our main focus is to just play the game like it's our last game, no matter what the rankings is, or what we think or what we hear,” Henderson said. “I feel like it's important for us to come out and play our game and stick to what we know and what we have been preparing for.”
Staley said the team will remain “in the moment” as it has all season in big games.
“It's March Madness. Anybody can win on any given day,” Staley said. “I think we have to impose our will on them, and I'm sure they're going to do the same to us.”
South Carolina and Creighton will tip-off at 7 p.m. on Sunday at the Greensboro Coliseum Complex, with the winner advancing to Minneapolis for the Final Four.