South Carolina is on a redemption tour and proving why they’re the No. 1 overall seed.
The Gamecocks beat Louisville 72-59 in the Final Four to punch their ticket to the program’s second national championship game.
This win comes one year after Stanford narrowly denied them a trip to the national championship, with Aliyah Boston’s layup coming up short on the tip and ending the Gamecocks’ season. This time, Boston made sure to leave no doubt where her team belonged.
South Carolina opened the game with seven unanswered points, even stretching the lead to nine three times in the first quarter.
Under head coach Jeff Walz’ leadership, the Cardinals went on a 10-0 run of their own, overtaking the Gamecocks within minutes of the second quarter. This was Walz’ fourth Final Four appearance since taking over at Louisville in 2007.
Down 22-19, South Carolina outscored Louisville 15-6 in the final minutes, paced by Boston, who recorded four points and three assists in that stretch. The 6-foot-5 forward was named AP Player of the Year yesterday.
Coming out of the half, Louisville looked to close the six-point gap. The Cardinals managed to keep it close, largely behind the steady performance of Emily Engstler, but couldn’t seem to find an answer to the Gamecocks’ shooting performance. South Carolina continued to feed Boston, who rattled off seven points to end the quarter to give her team a nine-point lead heading into the final frame.
With just under five minutes remaining in the game and down nine, the Cardinals were delivered a devastating blow -- a fifth and final foul on Engstler.
The senior finished with 18 points, nine rebounds and four steals in what was her final appearance for Louisville after she declared for the WNBA draft. Her 23 steals across five games matched a 24-year record set by Old Dominion’s Ticha Penicheiro in the 1998 tournament for most steals in a single tournament.
With Engstler out of the game, South Carolina took a convincing 71-56 lead, their largest of the night.
Louisville sophomore guard Hailey Van Lith did everything she could to keep her team in it down the stretch, even sinking the team’s first 3-pointer of the night with 38 seconds remaining, but it wasn’t enough and South Carolina advanced to the title game.
Boston led all scorers with 23 points behind an efficient 8 of 12 shooting from the field and a dominant 18 rebounds. The other four South Carolina starters all finished in double digits.
South Carolina will take on the winner of No. 2 UConn and No. 1 Stanford with hopes of joining the 2016 national title team in the rafters.