The No.1 South Carolina women's basketball team defeated the No. 2 seeded University of Maryland 86-75 in the Regional Final Monday night, advancing to what will be its third consecutive Final Four appearance.
"Not a lot of teams can say that they're able to do this," senior forward Aliyah Boston said. "For us to be able to do that it just feels really good and is such a blessing that we won't ever take for granted."
The game resembled the Gamecocks' first matchup with the Terrapins at the beginning of the season, as the game stayed close throughout the first half.
The Gamecocks had a rocky start to the game after turnovers and fouls plagued the team in the first quarter. Foul trouble on South Carolina's side combined with a mere 33% shooting percentage allowed Maryland to have the advantage.
"The game had to settle down," head coach Dawn Staley said. "Obviously, Maryland came on and played extremely fast, just moving the ball up and down the floor. They were extremely physical."
However, South Carolina was then able to find its footing and adjust to a physical, fast-paced Maryland offense in the second quarter.
The team diminished the Terrapins' lead by drawing four fouls and forcing three turnovers in the first three minutes.
The two-point guard lineup of redshirt freshman Raven Johnson and graduate Kierra Fletcher changed the pace and level of attack from the Gamecocks, which allowed the team to regain the lead and maintain it for the remainder of the game.
Going into halftime up by 8, the Gamecocks did nothing but grow its lead in the second half of the game, as its senior leadership and depth on the bench began to shine.
Consistent leaders for the Gamecocks included Boston, who tallied her 82nd career double-double, and senior guard Brea Beal who had a season-high of 16 points in the game.
Fellow senior guard Zia Cooke helped South Carolina maintain control with 9 points in each of the second and third quarters.
Junior center Kamila Cardoso was strong off the bench for the Gamecocks scoring all 8 of her points in the second half.
"This team just wants to win. They don't really care how it looks, they just want to do what's necessary for us to score more points than the other team by way of defense. They're seasoned, they're veterans, they know how to win," Staley said. "The main thing is they just don't want to lose."
With a minute to go in the game, the arena in Greenville, S.C. roared as South Carolina took all of its players off the floor to sub in the bench, improving on its perfect 36-0 season.
"I know what it feels like to lose, I know what it feels like to be sent home," Beal said. "Every game that we played this season, we played with that feeling on our mind, on our chest so really going into any game we play, we don't want that feeling."
The Gamecocks will now look to secure its second consecutive trip to the National Championship when it faces National Player of the Year candidate Caitlin Clark and No. 2 seeded Iowa in the Final Four.
The University of Iowa won the Seattle Regional 4 Tournament over the University of Louisville on Sunday with a score of 97-83, advancing the team to the Final Four. Junior guard Caitlin Clark recorded 41 points, 10 rebounds and 12 assists.
The game between the Gamecocks and the Hawkeyes will take place on Friday at the American Airlines Center in Dallas. Tip-off is set for 9 p.m. and will be broadcasted on ESPN.