South Carolina Gamecocks Return to the Final Four

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The South Carolina Gamecocks return to the Final Four was earned in impressive fashion with a 62-34 dismantling of Texas. Dawn Staley‘s team was dominant from the opening tip, and stayed that way until the final buzzer. The SEC Tournament Champions did not allow the Longhorns to score a point in the fourth quarter. South Carolina is playing their best basketball in March, and they are two wins away from a second National Title.

South Carolina Gamecocks Return to the Final Four

Coach Staley has built a juggernaut of a program in Columbia. Her team was number one in the nation a season ago, but they never had their opportunity in the NCAA Tournament. This year’s group has tried to pick up where that team left off. The Gamecocks return to the Final Four is their third last six tournaments. Success has become the expectation, and these ladies are carrying that burden well.

After losing in a battle for the SEC’s regular season crown, this team turned its attention to postseason basketball. South Carolina has adjusted well to the tournament bubble life. They first showed this by winning the SEC tournament title. They then carried the momentum built there to San Antonio for the Big Dance. The Gamecocks have won each game by double digits, and haven’t trailed in the second half. Staley’s team has now won seven straight post season games. They have been in control throughout this run, and seem to be peaking at the right time. They will face the Stanford Cardinal on Friday.

Among the Trees

South Carolina’s recent winning streak is in part to thier return to basics on offense. Coach Staley wants things to go through the post on offense, and they have focused more on that in the postseason. Aliyah Boston is the focal point of that attention, and she played at an All-American level all season. Since the tournament has began, its been the two post players stepping up. Victoria Saxton and Laeticia Amihere have both scored in double figures in three of the four NCAA Tournament victories.
They were both excellent in the Elite Eight. Saxton scored eight of her twelve points in the first two minutes to get the team off to a fast start. Amihere almost messed around and got a triple double coming off the bench. She finished with 10 points, eight rebounds, and a ridiculous nine blocks. Boston is the team’s focal point, and attention she garners creates opportunities for her teammates. The Gamecocks return to the Final Four is in large part due to Saxton and Amihere capitalizing on those chances. This teams size is a mismatch for almost opponent, especially when all three of them are playing this well.

Smothered and Covered

The Gamecocks defense is also operating at a championship level. Just three of their last seven opponents have scored more than 53 points, and no one has topped 65. They were exceptional in the regional final. They held Texas to just 34 points overall, and held them scoreless over the final 12 minutes. The garnet and black were dominant with their size. They had a double digit advantage on the glass, and also had 14 blocks as a team. Texas struggled to find an open shot all night.
This team still has some stretches where they can go cold on offense. Its the defense they lean on to fight through those instances. Not only does this team protect the rim with their size, but they have excellent perimeter defenders as well. Zia Cooke leads South Carolina on scoring on offense, but she has also developed into a very good defender. Brea Beal is a menace on the defensive end, and usual draws the toughest assignment. This team is also well connected on the defense, and has length and versatility all over. The old saying is that defense travels. For the Gamecocks, its taking them on a trip to the Final Four.

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