Stopping Creighton’s Charge, South Carolina Heads to the Final Four

GREENSBORO, N.C. — South Carolina, the top-seeded team in the women’s tournament, is heading to its fourth Final Four after defeating Creighton 80-50 on Sunday.

The Gamecocks put on a show in one of their best games of the year. The 10th-seeded Bluejays, one of several big underdogs in the men’s and women’s tournaments this year, were no match for Aliyah Boston, the Gamecocks’ star forward, who scored 19 points.

But just as great movies cannot rely on a single star, Boston leaned on a supporting cast of guard Brea Beal, forward Victaria Saxton and guard Destanni Henderson to stop Creighton’s impressive defense. The downside of South Carolina’s proficient shooting game: Boston subbed out early and her streak of 27 consecutive double-doubles came to an end.

South Carolina will play either No. 1 Louisville or No. 3 Michigan on Friday in Minneapolis.

The Gamecocks are hoping to secure a national championship for the first time since 2017. South Carolina Coach Dawn Staley, a Hall of Fame player and an Olympic gold medalist as a player and a coach, has practiced a mantra of “control what you can control,” an adage her players have locked into over the season.

South Carolina had an immediate height advantage on Sunday night: The average height on the Gamecocks’ roster is 6-foot-1, while Creighton’s averages 5-foot-10 (no one on the Bluejays is taller than 6-foot-1). Creighton tried to limit the 6-foot-5 Boston’s second-chance points by throwing four players on her at a time and forcing her to work double-time on the perimeter.

The Gamecocks wore the supercharged confidence of returning players on their broad builds and faces, a confidence that has propelled the program to six appearances in the round of 8, five of them under Staley.

They came into the tournament with just two losses this season, including an upset by Kentucky in the Southeastern Conference championship game in early March. But their dominance all season did not translate to easy wins in the early rounds of the N.C.A.A. tournament. They struggled to keep up with smaller, faster teams like Creighton, and their offense missed shots a No. 1 overall seed would be expected to make.

But throughout the tournament, South Carolina has found new and unexpected ways to win. On Sunday, the Gamecocks did what they do best: They attacked the basket and used their height to their advantage. At the end of the first quarter, the 6-foot-7 center Kamilla Cardoso caught a pass over the head of 6-foot-1 Morgan Maly, a sophomore guard, to easily land a basket.

When Creighton’s Payton Brotzki tried to grab an offensive rebound in the fourth quarter, Boston quickly intervened and gave her the side glance of an unwelcome visitor.

If South Carolina’s relaxed game relied on experience, the Bluejays looked nervous even when they made it through South Carolina’s towering defense, missing layups they had easily secured against Iowa State on Friday. Their play was loose and shaky, their reliable 3-point game unpredictable.

The Gamecocks are now on a quest to right the wrongs of the 2021 semifinals, when they lost to Stanford, the eventual champion, by 1 point.

Creighton has kept its opponents on their toes throughout the competition. The Bluejays took down No. 7 Colorado, No. 2 Iowa and No. 3 Iowa State to become the rare No. 10 seed to reach the round of 8, making it for the first time in the program’s history. What the Bluejays lacked in height, they made up for in consistent defense and fluidity, taking an all-hands-on-deck approach across the court and frequently sending their biggest players to the 3-point line.

The Bluejays, a relatively young team, played every game like it was their last, eager to prove themselves on every shot, dribble, fake-out and drive. But their “we made it this far, why not us?” mentality, as the junior guard Carly Bachelor described it Saturday, could take them only so far.

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