The Daily Gamecock

Analysis: No. 1 South Carolina women's basketball powers past Oregon State, advances to Final Four

<p>FILE- Freshman guard Tessa Johnson receives a pass during South Carolina’s victory over Presbyterian in round one of the 2024 NCAA Women’s Tournament on March 22, 2024. The Gamecocks advance to its forth consecutive Final 4 after defeating Oregon State 70-58 on March 31, 2024.</p>
FILE- Freshman guard Tessa Johnson receives a pass during South Carolina’s victory over Presbyterian in round one of the 2024 NCAA Women’s Tournament on March 22, 2024. The Gamecocks advance to its forth consecutive Final 4 after defeating Oregon State 70-58 on March 31, 2024.

The No. 1 South Carolina women's basketball team defeated the No. 3 seed Oregon State Beavers 70-58 in the Elite Eight Sunday afternoon at MVP Arena in Albany, New York. 

The win over the Beavers clinched the program's fourth consecutive appearance in the Final Four.

"(I'm) just proud because we beat the odds. The odds said that we shouldn't make it back to the Final Four," head coach Dawn Staley said. "(I'm) just proud of our team and for them believing in themselves. They created a certain level of chemistry and culture and they stuck with it. And they allowed us to coach them." 

The Gamecocks got off to a strong start, amassing an 18-14 lead by the end of the first quarter. Freshman guard MiLaysia Fulwiley put up 4 points in the opening period.

Oregon State heated up from behind the arc in the second quarter, hitting four 3-point shots in the frame. In the first half, the Beavers went 6-14 from long range, including three makes from freshman guard Lily Hansford.

South Carolina was inefficient from the floor to start the game, as it went just 14-43 (32.6%)  on all field goal attempts in the first half. Despite the slow start from a shooting standpoint, the Gamecocks overpowered Oregon State close to the basket, posting 24 points in the paint compared to the Beavers' 6.

The Gamecocks turned up the intensity on defense in the third quarter, holding the Beavers to just 13 points. Senior center Kamilla Cardoso had her best scoring performance of the game in the quarter, tallying 6 points.

South Carolina also began to find some consistency from behind the 3-point line in the third quarter, as both freshman guard Tessa Johnson and sophomore guard Raven Johnson hit important 3-pointers to help stabilize the Gamecocks' offense. The team would carry a 58-46 lead into the fourth quarter.

The fourth quarter proved to be a defensive battle between the Gamecocks and the Beavers. Neither team made a field goal until the 7:45 mark, and both teams combined to score just 24 points in the period. 

Oregon State clawed its way back into the game by hitting back-to-back 3-pointers to cut South Carolina's lead to six. But Raven Johnson would prove to be valuable in the final minute, converting four free throws in an 18-second span to give the Gamecocks' the cushion it needed.

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"Each time we get an opportunity to cut down some nets to go to the Final Four is really special because you don't know when it's going to be the last time that you'll do it," Staley said.

Turnovers would be an issue for Oregon State the entire game. The Beavers committed 12 in the game compared to the Gamecocks' six. 

South Carolina also saw impressive individual performances from multiple players, including Cardoso, who finished the game with 12 points and nine rebounds. Sophomore forward Ashlyn Watkins recorded 8 points and 14 rebounds, and Fulwiley tallied an additional 7 points off the bench.

Here are some takeaways from the Gamecocks' Elite Eight victory.

Tessa Johnson provides a spark

Johnson gave the Gamecocks an offensive lift when it was needed the most. As the team struggled against Oregon State's stout defense, she provided 7 points in the fourth quarter.

Johnson finished with the game with a team-high 15 points and two assists. She also went 5-5 from the free throw line and 2-5 from three. 

"It's very special," Johnson said. "I was the little girl dreaming of being up there, and now I am."

Gamecocks dominate in the paint

South Carolina struggled from the field against the Beavers, going 26-78 (33.3%) and 4-20 (20%) from 3-point range. Instead of settling for outside shots, the Gamecocks made an effort to pass the ball inside to its two post players — Cardoso and Watkins. The strategy paid off, as the team scored 44 points in the paint to Oregon State's 14.

South Carolina also dominated the Beavers on the glass, posting a 51-37 advantage in total rebounds. The Gamecocks accumulated 28 second-chance points and six blocks in the game, as well.

"With me, I love playing defense," Watkins said. "I love jumping, and I just like being active on the defensive end. And I think that's what gets us started on the offensive end."

Junior forward Sania Feagin, in addition to Cardoso and Watkins, had an impressive outing against Oregon State. Feagin finished with 8 points on 3-5 shooting to go along with four rebounds.

Undefeated again

South Carolina's Elite Eight victory marked the second straight season in which the Gamecocks entered the Final Four with an undefeated record. Last season, the Gamecocks were 36-0 heading into the Final Four before losing to Iowa 77-73 in the national semifinals.

Staley said the team is motivated to keep that streak alive.

"Next week, at this time, I'm hoping that we give a lot of people a lot to talk about," Staley said.

What's next?

With the win, South Carolina (36-0, 16-0 SEC) will face off against North Carolina State (31-6, 13-5 ACC) in the Final Four, which will take place at Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse in Cleveland, Ohio. The game will tip-off at a time to be determined on Friday, and it will be televised on ESPN.