South Carolina women’s basketball defeated No.1 Louisville 72-59 in the Final Four on Friday in Minneapolis. The win the advances the Gamecocks to their second national championship game in program history on Sunday.
“We’re going to take in this moment, and we’re not done yet. So we still have unfinished business and just going to live in the moment for right now but, you know, tomorrow just got to lock in more and just do what we have to do to make it all the way,” senior guard Destanni Henderson said after the win.
South Carolina jumped out to an early nine-point lead which jump-started its offense and produced a pair of 17-point quarters to build a 34-28 halftime lead. Louisville was able to take the lead at the midpoint of the second quarter, but a Henderson three-pointer would restore the Gamecocks advantage.
After halftime, the Gamecocks never lost the lead thanks to offensive efficiency and consistent defensive pressure. South Carolina head coach Dawn Staley praised freshman guard Saniya Rivers, who played 20 minutes off the bench, calling her court vision “elite.”
All five starters for the Gamecocks scored double-digits in the national semifinal. Staley credited her team’s ball movement and decision-making that led to a 19 to five advantage in assists for South Carolina.
“I thought our players just really played with a lot of poise,” Staley said. “It’s really surprising, you know, we don’t have a whole lot of assists all the time so I’m really proud of our team for being able to share the ball.”
Junior forward Aliyah Boston extended her run of dominant performances in the NCAA tournament after earning multiple national player of the year honors during the week. She finished with 23 points, 18 rebound and four assists to lead her team to victory.
“With the awards, I’m really blessed, but my main focus is bringing home a national championship Sunday night and so I’m just really locked in on that,” Boston said.
Boston pointed to an and-1 opportunity she converted late in the third quarter that secured the momentum for the Gamecocks and led to foul trouble for Louisville’s senior forward Emily Engstler, who later fouled out in the fourth quarter. Staley said that Boston is the focal point of South Carolina’s offense whether she finishes the play or not.
“We have to play through her, it doesn’t mean that she has to shoot the ball — but every time she touches the ball, she draws a crowd,” Staley said.
Staley discussed her team’s defensive mindset and noted junior guard Brea Beal as a driving force in holding the Cardinals to 13% from three-point range.
“We just like to be disruptive — take your first option away, your second option away and then have you play with a short shot clock,” Staley said.
South Carolina will now turn its attention towards UConn in the national championship game on Sunday. The Gamecocks won their previous meeting with the Huskies on Nov. 22 in the Bahamas during the Bad Boy Mowers Women's Battle 4 Atlantis championship.
The game is set for 8 p.m. and will be televised on ESPN.