Stockton, CA — If one thing in sports is certain, it is nothing is certain. The South Carolina Gamecocks know a little something about adversity and finding an alternative route. It’s nothing they haven’t dealt with before in the season or even in this tournament. They even started their tournament campaign out by announcing their senior center (Alaina Coates) would miss the rest of her senior season due to injury.
So when their star player and SEC Player of the Year A’ja Wilson found herself in foul trouble for most of the game, it was no big deal for the Gamecocks. With a ticket to the Final Four on the line, they just needed a little reworking.
Cue Kaela Davis.
The junior guard was a scoring sensation, netting 23 points in the 71-64 takedown. The Seminoles defense had no answers for Davis, who looked right at home, in the biggest game of her career to date.
From the opening tip, Davis was scoring at will — and had the Seminoles defense at her mercy. It took all of 11 seconds to get her started as Davis knocked down the first two points of the game.
Florida State hit the snooze button as they have done for the opening quarter every game so far this tournament and South Carolina took advantage.
Combined with Wilson and freshman guard Tyasha Harris, the trio annihilated the Seminoles lethargic defense, spreading it around and running circles around the Florida State women. After the first quarter, the Seminoles found themselves down 24-17.
The Gamecocks were tormenting Florida State who in the second quarter still seemingly hadn't woken up. But potential danger struck when Wilson picked up her third foul early and retired to the bench halfway through the quarter.
With the big out of the game for the rest of the half, a plane ride to Dallas seemed that much more difficult. That’s if you’re on the outside. Davis obviously had no such thought.
As soon as she checked back in for Wilson, she weaved through the defense for a layup. There was nothing the Seminoles could do to stop her from getting to the basket, and her Gamecock teammates fed off that momentum.
By the end of the second stanza she had 12 of the Gamecocks 40 points and her patient shooting allowed her to hit 5-of-7 shots. As a team, South Carolina was shooting 60% from the field while Florida State was only managing 38% to find themselves down by 11.
After the break, it took less than 30 seconds for Wilson to commit another foul and retreat back to the bench. Again, the Gamecocks fate weighed heavily on Davis’ shoulders. But she fed off this, scoring the first 6 field goal points for South Carolina in the third quarter.
Halfway through the quarter, the Seminoles were down 16 points and surrendering to the Gamecocks suffocating pressure. With South Carolina’s next up mentality, they were actually thriving with Wilson on the bench.
Davis rested on the sideline for the first few minutes of the final quarter. But as she did so, things started to come slightly undone.
The Seminoles finally woke from their slumber with Leticia Romero sounding the klaxons to ignite the life in her teammates. With a layup, Romero pulled the team within 9 points for the first time since the start of the third.
Florida State went on a 15-5 run to pull within three points and South Carolina was suddenly in trouble. With Wilson in the game, they managed to keep the Seminoles at bay, but only just. A layup by Brittany Brown pulled them to within 3 points of the Gamecocks. For the first time, they looked scared.
Just as the game was getting out of hand, Davis was there with a layup and a made free throw to bring the rain down on their scoring drought.
That ultimately sealed the deal for South Carolina as Florida State’s spark of life fizzled out again. The Gamecocks rode out the final 30 seconds of the game and galloped straight into the sunset towards Dallas with the 71-64 defeat.
Davis ended up with 23 points on 10 of 15 shooting with 5 rebounds and a pair of assists. Although it was her night to shine, she had a lot of help from her teammates.
Despite her foul trouble limiting her time on the court to 21 minutes, Wilson scored 16 points and had 4 blocks. Harris also added 16 points with 6 rebounds and 3 steals.
For the second time in three years, South Carolina moves on to the Final Four after knocking out Florida State in the Elite Eight. In Dallas, the Gamecocks will take on Stanford for a shot at the National title.
But for a team that flourishes in their most difficult times, South Carolina will be a tough team to beat -- especially with the scoring that Davis can do.