For weeks South Carolina and head coach Dawn Staley have had to face questions about their offense and if a nasty defense could be enough to win a second national championship.
For one night at least the Gamecocks made the critics look laughable. The No. 1 overall seed scored 23 points in each of the first two quarters and cruised to an 80-50 win over No. 10 seed Creighton to win the Greensboro region and advance to the Final Four.
South Carolina (33-2) held the No. 1 ranking in the Associated Press poll throughout the season and is looking for redemption after a heartbreaking ending to the 2021 tournament. The Gamecocks lost to eventual champion Stanford when they couldn’t get the winning basket to go in spite of multiple chances.
They will play the winner of No. 1 Louisville and No. 3 Michigan out of the Wichita region on Friday at the Target Center in Minneapolis.
offense comes alive
Aliyah Boston scored 19 points on 7-of-9 shooting and added seven rebounds. With the game in hand, she came to the bench late in the fourth short of extending her SEC record 27 double-doubles. Victaria Saxton had an 11-point, 11-rebound double-double as Creighton struggled to handle South Carolina’s size.
The Gamecocks scored 42 points in the paint, a calling card for this tall and deep roster.
Guard Destanni Henderson was the hot hand early going a perfect 3-of-3, including a 3-pointer, in the first quarter. She had 12 points on 5-of-9 shooting with three rebounds, three assists and three steals.
It was the first game of the tournament that South Carolina was better than 40% as a team from the field. They shot 51.9% compared to games against No. 16 Howard (35.4%), No. 8 Miami (29.5%) and No. 5 North Carolina (33.3%). They’ve shot at least 50% in only five games this season.
The defense was as spectacular as expected. They kept Creighton to 50 points, right at the Gamecocks’ defensive average, and only seven 3-pointers, three below the Bluejays’ average. They were 7-of-21. Creighton shot 36.4% overall and made only one of their free throws in five attempts. South Carolina dominated on the boards, 43-23, and had five blocks.
Creighton pulled off major upsets to reach the program’s first Elite Eight and represent the talent in the Big East this season. The Bluejays took down No. 7 seed Colorado, No. 2 Iowa and No. 3 Iowa State. Iowa was a favorite No. 2 seed to win the entire tournament with highlight-showcase guard Caitlin Clark.
But shutting down a star guard and forward duo is not the same as shutting down a team like South Carolina that relies heavily on defense with more talent top-to-bottom.
Greensboro all-region teams
The Greensboro All-Regional Team was announced after South Carolina’s win. Boston, at 6-foot-5 center, was named the Most Outstanding Player and averaged 16.8 points and 14.3 rebounds per game in the tournament so far. She had 28 and 22, respectively, in the Sweet 16 win against North Carolina.
Henderson was also named to the team for South Carolina. The 5-foot-7 guard bounced back from rough outings in the first two rounds to average 12.5 points over the two games in Greensboro.
Creighton guard Lauren Jensen, who had a team-high 12 points against South Carolina, was named to the all-region team. Iowa State’s Emily Ryan and North Carolina’s Deja Kelly filled out the five.