Past success creates the path to Elite 8

Past success creates the path to Elite 8
SAN ANTONIO, TX - MARCH 28: Georgia Tech takes on South Carolina in the Sweet Sixteen round of the NCAA Women’s Basketball Tournament at Alamodome on March 28, 2021 in San Antonio, Texas. (Source: Justin Tafoya)

San Antonio, TX (WIS) - Sensational shooting carries South Carolina to the Elite 8 for the fifth time in program history. The Gamecocks down Georgia Tech in the Sweet 16 of the NCAA Tournament, 76-65.

Carolina featured a balanced attack against Georgia Tech on Sunday, with all seven players in the lineup scoring. The Gamecocks collected 44 paint points and shot 56% from the field, including making eight three-point shots.

“Our offense carried us today with our ability to hit layups and ability to stretch the floor and hit some threes,” said Gamecocks coach Dawn Staley. “It’s a work in progress. I hope it continues to get better.”

Staley understands the importance of excellent offensive execution with the caliber of programs that remain in the field.

“We’re going to have to have a tremendous balance between the two, defending and being able to efficiently score,” Staley added.

Early defensive struggles against Georgia Tech negated Carolina’s sharp-shooting. The Yellow Jackets matched the Gamecocks rebounding while knocking down big shots to keep the game close.

Staley attributes some of the defensive breakdowns to being too focused.

“I thought for the first two games we were pretty loose, meaning focused but loose,” Staley mentioned. “Today, I thought we were focused and tight. It’s just defensively, in the first quarter, we had some miscommunication on our ball screen defense—second quarter, we had to scrap it.”

Carolina also found ways to execute, without star sophomore forward Aliyah Boston being a key contributor. Unlike the first two NCAA Tournament games, Georgia Tech kept Boston in check. She went scoreless in the first two quarters. She finished with nine points.

Carolina’s ability to utilize a balanced approach offensively kept them in control throughout the entire game.

“This team pivoted extremely well today,” Staley said. “It’s good to hit shots. I thought we did a great job winning the game. Doing whatever we needed to do to win the game.”

Sophomore guard Zia Cooke maintained her co-star role and finished the game with a team-high 17 points.

Laeticia Amihere came off the bench to score 15 points while adding seven rebounds. The Gamecock sophomore forward continues to emerge as a critical centerpiece in Carolina’s tournament run to the Elite 8. Amihere embraces a more significant role with senior forward LeLe Grissett sidelined for the entire dance due to injury.

“Coach trusts me to go out there and put in the work,” Amihere said. “I have to be able to deliver.”

Advancing to the Elite 8 with this group means a great deal to coach Staley. She credits her team’s resolve, along with last year’s two influential senior leaders in Ty Harris and Kiki Herbert Harrigan.

“It’s the hard work and what the legacy of some of our leaders who played here at South Carolina left with us,” Staley said. “Ty and Kiki have been here before. They got robbed of an opportunity to come back here last year. Great to see them leaving this type of legacy with some of these younger players, and they have got us back here to this point.”

“So, it wasn’t just about this year,” continued Staley. “Our players played extremely hard this year and put themselves in this position. If we didn’t have the type of season that we had last year and the interactions that we had within our team, I don’t think you can come here. There are too many great teams and programs here to think you can flip the switch and be here. There are people that put us in this position that allowed us to familiarize ourselves to playing at a high level.”

It’s the third time in the past four women’s NCAA Tournaments that the Gamecocks have at least reached the regional finals. South Carolina won the national championship in 2017.

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