NCAAW Final Four: South Carolina defeats NC State, 78-59

NCAAW Final Four: South Carolina defeats NC State, 78-59

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South Carolina rolls by NC State to reach their second NCAA Women’s Championship game in three years.

(Photo by C. Morgan Engel/NCAA Photos via Getty Images)

You have to give credit where credit is due. Head coach Dawn Staley and the Gamecocks were expected to regress after losing a bulk of their starters last season. Instead, for the first time in program history, South Carolina finished undefeated on the year. A perfect 37-0, the no. 1 Gamecocks secured themselves a Final Four victory over no. 3 NC State Wolfpack. In attendance were former Gamecocks, Aliyah Boston and A’ja Wilson.

And now they are the first team to head to the NCAA Finals with an undefeated record for the first time since the UConn Huskies in 2016.

South Carolina entered this matchup as the heavy favorites by an 11.5-point spread after knocking off Presbyterian, UNC, Indiana, and Oregon State in the previous rounds. Leading the nation with a +29.3 point differential, they showed the basketball world just who they were on Friday.

In a post-game interview with Indiana Fever center on ESPN, Staley shared a heartfelt moment with her former player. While Boston was a staple of their championship run, it was Iowa that sent them packing in last year’s Final Four. Stating how proud she is of the former Gamecock, she reiterated they want to seek redemption for Boston. Boston was a four-year player for Staley at South Carolina and was drafted No.1 overall by Indiana in the 2023 WNBA Draft.

“We’re excited”, Staley told ESPN’s Aliyah Boston. “This is the place we wanted to be. We want to do it for you. We really want to take care of Sunday for you and the freshies because you gave basketball everything you had, and you came up short in your senior year.”

The Gamecocks broke the game open in the third quarter

Tied 16 all in the first quarter, the Wolfpack kept the game relatively close, 32-31 at the have. While NC State had an incredible season, they truly never had a chance against the Gamecocks. Undefeated. Dominant. South Carolina steamrolled past another team in the tournament. Led by 6’7 center Kamila Cardoso, she finished with a game-high 22 points, 11 rebounds, and two blocks, on 10-12 field goal shooting.

Heading into the third quarter, the Gamecocks turned on the Jets, outscoring NC State 29-6 in the third quarter. Yes, you heard that right, NC State scored just six points. Showing their defensive prowess, this team plays their best when they run plays on both sides of the ball through Cardoso. Aside from a pair of free throws, Wolfpack guard Aziaha James scored the lone bucket in the third quarter. NC State shot 1-11 as a whole in the third. In fact their 29 points in that quarter was the most scored in given period in Women’s Final Four history.

Credit James, who finished with a team-high 20 points on 6-17 shooting. Although South Carolina put the clamps on her, James was the glue to their magical March Madness run. While Cardoso had a field day in the paint, it was more about the depth of South Carolina and their contributions off the bench.

Saniya Rivers, who won a title with South Carolina, transferred to NC State her sophomore year. This season, she averaged 12.5 points, 6.1 rebounds, and 3.7 assists. A main staple for their success, Rivers struggled, shooting just 2-11 from the floor with five turnovers.

Lucky for Staley, she had the luxury of resting Cardoso in the fourth quarter. This came after she suffered an apparent leg injury in the third quarter. Although she returned, the center donned a black leg sleeve for the rest of the matchup.

Staley built talent around Kamilla Cardoso

Speaking of the bench, it was Ashlyn Watkins who received heavy minutes of playing time. Standing at 6 foot 3, the guard became the first player in South Carolina women’s basketball history to record a dunk in 2022 vs. Clemson. Showcasing her incredible vertical leap and spacing, Watkins grabbed 20 boards against NC State. South Carolina dominated NC State on the rebounds, 46-32.

A force on the inside, 15 of her 20 rebounds came on the defensive end. Limiting NC State to just 32.3 percent from the field and 26.1 percent from deep, it was securing defensive stops and rebounds which led to offensive opportunities. In addition to her enormous efforts on the glass, Watkins poured in eight points, one assist, and two blocks.

During that colossal third quarter, the Gamecocks missed only seven field goal attempts. It was third-year guard Raven Johnson who impressed the most. Initially headed to the locker room with an apparent injury, she came back to finish with 13 points, on 3-5 three-point shooting. A lockdown defender, Johnson added three steals and five assists on the night. She shot 4-5 from the floor in the second half.

In a talented backfield, Senior transfer Te-Hina Paopao finished with 10 points on 2-5 three-point shooting. Dishing out six dimes, the guard hit 100 percent of her three-point shots in the third quarter. Up 21 points with seconds remaining, Bree Hall splashed a three to end the quarter. This shows beyond the talent and rim protection of Cardoso, there’s a multitude of players that can step up at any given time. And the fact that Staley refuses to let off the gas shows how dangerous this team is.

South Carolina’s bench produced 30 points

Although NC State outscored South Carolina 22-17 in the final quarter, Dawn Staley received 30 points from the bench alone. While freshman Milaysia Fulwiley struggled on the offensive end, she was a menace on the defensive side with four steals. I do believe she is a rising star and could become an X-factor in the championship game. Tessa Johnson, Fulwiley, Watkins, and Sania Feagin–they are such important members of this team.

Overall, the Gamecocks showed everyone their true selves. A physically dominant team on both sides of the ball that continues to hammer teams. The most complete team in the NCAA tournament, it’s time we hand coach Staley her flowers. National champions in 2022 and 2017, this is Staley’s sixth finals appearance since her first season as head coach (2008). One of the best coaches to ever grace the game, Staley is revolutionizing women’s basketball.

We can’t forget when Caitlin Clark waved off Raven Johnson in last year’s Final Four victory over South Carolina. While Iowa destroyed their perfect season, Staley, the Naismith Coach of the Year, will look to build on the dynasty she’s created in South Carolina.

Stay tuned for more NCAA and WNBA-related articles. Click here

Sara Jane Gamelli is a full-time Sportswriter, Content Creator and Social Media Manager for Ballislife Bets. She has a focus on the NBA, WNBA, NCAA Basketball, and the NFL. Sara Jane currently resides in Connecticut/NYC area with her Cat and Dog. SJ has her undergraduate degree from the University of Connecticut in Economics, with a minor in business administration



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