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NCAA Tournament Second Round: South Carolina uses electric third to overcome USF

The South Carolina Gamecocks trailed by four after one and led by just four at halftime, but pulled away from the South Florida Bulls in the third.

NCAA Women’s Basketball Tournament - Second Round - South Carolina
Zia Cooke won her duel with Elena Tsineke.
Photo by Tim Cowie/NCAA Photos via Getty Images

The No. 1 seed South Carolina Gamecocks used electrifying plays in the third quarter to pull away from the No. 8 seed South Florida Bulls 76-45 and cruise into their ninth straight Sweet Sixteen. It’s usually Aliyah Boston and Zia Cooke leading the way for the Gamecocks, and it was that way on Sunday. Boston posted 11 points, 11 rebounds and two blocks and Cooke dropped a game-high 21 points to go along with two steals.

South Carolina was energized by a Victaria Saxton block-turned-Cooke transition layup that made it 39-31 Gamecocks at the 6:52 mark of the third. Two minutes and one second later Cooke made a layup off a backcourt steal and added 1-of-2 at the line after an intentional foul was called to make it 46-33. Bree Hall capped a thrilling third that South Carolina won 19-7 with a catch-and-shoot mid-range make off an inbound pass that made it 52-36 at the buzzer.

Elena Tsineke scored USF’s first five points and then the Bulls took an 8-3 lead on a Sammie Puisis three. That would be their largest lead of the first, after which they led 16-12.

At the 6:53 mark of the second, a Hall 3-point play gave SC a 19-18 lead. The Gamecocks went on to lead by as much as seven in the frame, as two Saxton free throws made it 29-22 with 3:04 remaining before the half. SC also led 31-24 and 33-26 before a Tsineke three with five ticks remaining in the second cut it to 33-29, which was the score at the break.

Laeticia Amihere added 10 points and six boards to the winning cause, while Kierra Fletcher was good for six points, seven rebounds and three assists. Saxton finished with four of SC’s 10 blocks.

USF was in foul trouble, but none of its players ended up fouling out. Tsineke led the Bulls with 20 points; she was 4-of-6 from downtown. Puisis added 11 points, but Dulcy Fankam Mendjiadeu was held to four.

SC held USF to just 29.3 percent shooting from the field. The Gamecocks also attempted 13 more free throws and made eight more. They won the battle on the glass 55-28.