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Aliyah Boston too much for UNC in Sweet 16 win

The Gamecocks used their size to defeat the Tar Heels, with Aliyah Boston and Victaria Saxton dominating their matchups.

North Carolina Tar Heels v South Carolina Gamecocks Photo by Sarah Stier/Getty Images

The knock on South Carolina heading into the second weekend of the NCAA Tournament was that the Gamecocks hadn’t scored efficiently in some time.

Here’s what Dawn Staley had to say about that after the third quarter, when South Carolina found itself up 56-45 despite having shot 37 percent from the field to that point.

“At this point, it’s about winning basketball games,” Staley told Steffi Sorensen of ESPN. “It doesn’t have to be pretty, so we can find different ways of winning basketball games. I don’t care what the experts say. They can talk about our offense all they want, okay, we’re going to bring the D, and eventually we’re going to hit some shots.”

The beauty of the Gamecocks’ style of play is that they don’t have to be efficient in terms of field-goal percentage: they dominate the offensive glass, win the possession battle, and hit timely threes so that their volume of scoring opportunities overwhelms the opposition, and that’s exactly what happened against North Carolina in the Sweet 16.

South Carolina won 69-61 to advance to the Elite Eight. The Tar Heels outshot the Gamecocks 46 percent to 34 percent from the field, but South Carolina had 16 more shot attempts and hit four more threes. That math advantage meant that yes, it didn’t have to look pretty for the Gamecocks, but they found a way to win.

Boston was the key for South Carolina on the offensive end, extending her SEC record to 27 consecutive double doubles. She had 28 points and 22 rebounds, 12 coming on the offensive end which led to 18 second-chance points of her own. Boston is the third player since 2000 to have 25+ points and 20+ rebounds in a tournament game. Fellow frontcourt starter Victaria Saxton added seven offensive rebounds to aid in the Gamecocks’ advantage on the glass.

South Carolina needed every one of those second-chance points because North Carolina proved to be a tough test on the offensive end. Sophomore Deja Kelly, who came into the game averaging 21.5 points per contest in the NCAA Tournament, had her way with the Gamecocks defense. Kelly got into the paint with regularity, finding her own shot and creating for her teammates in the process.

Unfortunately for Kelly, while she ended the night with 23 points (trailing only Boston), she was joined by one other Tar Heel in double figures, Alexandra Zelaya off the bench with 10. The rest of the UNC starters combined to shoot 35 percent from the field, 2-of-8 on 3-pointers, and 4-of-10 on free throws.

The Tar Heels had an advantage in transition, outscoring South Carolina 14-5 on the break. But the Gamecocks did well to slow the game, particularly in the second quarter when they held UNC to eight points after entering the period down by one.

South Carolina advances to the regional final for the second consecutive season to play the winner of Creighton vs. Iowa State.