South Carolina has spent this entire season with one goal: to win a national championship. When the team lost in the SEC championship game, Dawn Staley reminded her group that they had a bigger prize in mind.
The Gamecocks are one win away from making that dream come true after convincingly winning their Final Four matchup against Louisville 72-59 in a battle of two no. 1 seeds. South Carolina won every quarter but the second, outrebounded the Cardinals, and outscored them in the paint and from 3-point range en route to victory.
Aliyah Boston led the way with 23 points and 18 rebounds, one of five Gamecocks in double figures. Louisville had three players in double figures, led by Emily Engstler with 18 points and nine rebounds, but the Cardinals didn’t get nearly enough from leading scorer Hailey Van Lith, who finished with nine points on 4-of-11 shooting.
In order to pull off the upset, Louisville would have to figure out a way to overcome South Carolina’s size advantage, but the Cardinals weren’t able to manage that early.
The Gamecocks had four offensive rebounds in the blink of an eye and drew a couple of fouls on rebounding chances. They had 14 points in the paint in the first quarter compared to four for Louisville, who looked spooked by the length of South Carolina inside. That shot deterrence led to rushed layups or passing out of the paint. The Gamecocks also took Van Lith out of the game with Brea Beal’s size — Beal blocked two Van Lith jumpers and forced her into some wild attempts at the basket.
Meanwhile, South Carolina had little trouble with Louisville’s pressure, calmly pinging the ball around the halfcourt to escape traps. The team had 11 assists on 15 first-half field goals, four of them coming from Boston as she read double teams to find open shooters dump offs in the paint. At no point was Boston’s vision better than at the end of the half when she navigated a triple team and hit Beal on the other side of the basket.
Post up for Aliyah Boston and it's a *triple* team. pic.twitter.com/MMTdfSZHVL— Steve Jones Jr. (@stevejones20) April 2, 2022
Louisville started to make a dent offensively in the second quarter in transition. Engstler pushed the pace as the Cardinals capitalized on turnovers and long rebounds. Olivia Cochran exerted her presence in the paint, and a couple of Kianna Smith jumpers resulted in a 12-0 run in the second, giving Louisville a three-point lead.
But the Gamecocks just kept getting the ball to Boston and trusted her to make good decisions. They patiently broke the press, used their size inside, and Laeticia Amihere provided some juice on the break.
South Carolina carried that momentum into the start of the second half. Zia Cooke and Destanni Henderson were draining their jumpers, and the combo of Boston and Victaria Saxton once again bullied on the glass. Louisville was forced to go into a 2-3 zone, but the Gamecocks passing found openings and stretched the lead to as many as 15 in the third.
The Cardinals refused to go down easily and made more of an effort to attack the paint, even with South Carolina’s size, led by Cochran and Engstler. That put just enough game pressure on the Gamecocks guards, who started to get loose with the ball and give Louisville opportunities off of turnovers. The Cardinals pulled to within six before Boston completed a three-point play at the end of the period, yet another excellent close to the quarter for the national player of the year.
With a nine-point deficit entering the final period, the Cardinals had to up their defensive pressure in the half court and with their press. It just didn’t faze Boston at all, who nearly had as many rebounds as the Louisville team during the fourth.
On the other end, the South Carolina defense never let up. Dawn Staley even busted out a press with less than two minutes remaining and her team up by double digits. A wire-to-wire championship-type effort from the best player in college basketball, and as of Monday, maybe the best team.