South Carolina looks unstoppable, rolls into 9th straight Sweet 16

For anyone who was able to step away from their TVs for a couple of hours to get some fresh air on Sunday, here’s your NCAA Tournament update: South Carolina is still dominating and still very much in the hunt to defend the their national championship.

The No. 1-seeded Gamecocks defeated No. 8-seeded South Florida 76-45 at Colonial Life Arena in Columbia, extending their current winning streak to 40 games, which dates back to defeating the SEC title last year over Kentucky.

Zia Cooke led all scorers with 21 points, National Player of the Year candidate Aliyah Boston had 11 points and 11 rebounds, and Laeticia Amihere added 10 points, six rebounds and a block.

While the final score and stat sheet would suggest this was a typical South Carolina blowout, things were a little edgy to begin with. The Bulls led after the first quarter, making it just the seventh time this season that the Gamecocks trailed after 10 minutes.

Before the game, head coach Jose Fernandez said his team would not be intimidated by the moment or the atmosphere, playing in Columbia in front of a raucous crowd. USF beat Texas and Arkansas earlier this season, when those opponents were nationally ranked, and played other NCAA tournament teams like NC State, Ohio State and Villanova. They also played UConn close last season, so this group knew what it was like to play in a big game facing him.

“I look at it as they have all the pressure on them,” Fernandez said before the game. “It’s March. Anything can happen. We’ll do what we do and see what happens.”

The Bulls certainly tested the Gamecocks, attacking the glass, getting points in the paint, shooting 3s and generally not seeming afraid to go right at the defending champions on their home court. In the first and second quarters, South Florida played physical and made it difficult for South Carolina to get anything going inside, holding them to 12 points in the paint when averaging 44.5 points per game . South Carolina held a narrow 33-29 lead at halftime.

Any glimmer of hope South Florida had that might hang on was quickly dashed in the third quarter.

Legendary coach Dawn Staley showed her depth and used different combinations to put the game away. He has his starting lineup of Boston, Cooke, Victaria Saxton, Brea Beal and Kierra Fletcher, but can tweak things slightly to add speed, size and shake things up as the game dictates. For example, Bree Hall came off the bench and had seven points and six rebounds, including a team-high four offensive boards. He also hit a bell to end the third quarter.

In the fourth quarter with the game already out of reach, Amihere had a monster block on defense, came out in transition, called for the ball and made a layup to give his team a 22-point lead.

South Carolina’s bench, which ranks first nationally with a 36.8 PPG average, scored 30 points. As a team, they had 10 blocks, four of which came from Saxton, and outrebounded the Bulls 55-28, including 24 offensive boards.

Other notable numbers for South Carolina included 34 points in the paint, 17 second-chance points and holding the Bulls to 16 points in the second half.

As Staley’s team reaches its ninth straight Sweet 16, the question that has been asked all season remains: Can anyone finish off the Gamecocks?

Laken Litman covers college football, college basketball and soccer for FOX Sports. He previously wrote for Sports Illustrated, USA Today and The Indianapolis Star. She is the author of “Strong Like a Woman,” published in the spring of 2022 to commemorate the 50th anniversary of Title IX. Follow her on Twitter @LakenLitman.

Read more:

FOLLOW Follow your favorites to personalize your FOX Sports experience

Women’s College Basketball

South Carolina Gamecocks

Get more out of women’s college basketball Follow your favorites for information on games, news and more

in this subject

Aliyah Boston Aliyah Boston

Source link

Leave a Comment