Gamecock title dreams fade at the buzzer

Gamecock title dreams fade at the buzzer
SAN ANTONIO, TX - APRIL 2: Aliyah Boston #4 of the South Carolina Gamecocks and Anna Wilson #3 of the Stanford Cardinal fight for a loose ball during the semifinals of the NCAA WomenÕs Basketball Tournament at Alamodome on April 2, 2021 in San Antonio, Texas. (Photo by Ben Solomon via Getty Images) (Source: Ben Solomon)

San Antonio, Texas (WIS) - Stanford survives and denies South Carolina’s title dreams.

The Cardinal escape in the final moments to eliminate the Gamecocks from the NCAA Tournament in the national semifinal from San Antonio, Texas, 66-65.

The Gamecocks, down one in fourth quarter, trapped the Cardinal at mid-court with five seconds left. Carolina’s Aliyah Boston stole the ball and dished it to Brea Beal, who then drove toward the basket. Her layup attempt fell off the iron, with Boston securing the rebound for the last chance putback at the buzzer. It found the rim and bounced to the floor.

Stanford advanced to its first championship game since 2010. The Final Four that year was also held in San Antonio.

South Carolina started the national semifinal composed and in control. Stanford turned it over on its first two possessions. The Gamecock trio of Cooke, Destanni Henderson, and Boston paced the offense early. Boston connected on a wide-open three-point basket to lift Carolina to a 5-0 advantage.

Cooke hit a difficult shot off the window to push the lead to 11-2 four minutes into the showdown. She connected on three of her first four shots from the field, as the Gamecocks secured a 15-6 edge by the 4:48 mark of the first quarter.

Stanford buckled down for the remainder of the frame.

The Gamecocks offense was bottled up, missing its final six shot attempts. The Cardinal used the opportunity to end the quarter on a 9-0 run, locking the game at 15-15.

The Cardinal took their first lead of the game when Lexie Hull drew a foul and knocked down a pair of free throws, 17-15 at the 9:48 mark.

Carolina’s offensive woes nearly extended the length of an entire quarter. The Gamecocks went over nine minutes of game time before making another basket. Cooke came to the rescue. She connected on a heavily contested three from the corner to stop the Cardinal 16-2 run. The three-point shot at the 5:22 mark trimmed Stanford’s lead to two, 22-20.

The Cardinal acted as tall trees in the lane and made it difficult for the Gamecocks to generate paint points. A good bulk of Carolina’s offense comes in the lane, but they were held to a mere eight points from the paint in the first half.

Even though Carolina’s defense limited the Cardinal to 34% shooting thru two quarters, its own offense failed to find a rhythm. The Gamecocks shot 28% on 8-29 shooting. And only Cooke and Boston made a basket in the first 20 minutes.

Stanford, terrific from three-point range, hitting four-of-five from downtown in two quarters, carrying a 31-25 into the locker room.

More Carolina Cooke-ing to begin the third quarter. Cooke drilled her first two three-point attempts to cut the Cardinal lead to four points.

Brea Beal became the first Gamecock player other than Cooke or Boston to make a field goal. Camped on the wing, Cooke sent a dime, and then Beal delivers. Her shot from inside the arc at the 6:51 mark made it 37-35, Stanford clinging to a slight advantage.

The Cardinal had no idea how to cool off sizzle time. Cooke’s third three-point basket of the third pulled the Gamecocks to within three, 43-40 at the 4:04 mark.

Seconds later, Gamecock junior guard Destanni Henderson showed up from downtown. Henderson stepped into a three from the left wing to tie the game at the 3:16 mark, 43-43.

Trailing by six with under six minutes to go in the game, Cooke drove into the trees to close the gap. Her tough layup inside made it a four-point Gamecock deficit at the 5:51 mark.

Henderson confidently hit a step back three right in front of the Gamecock bench at the 2:26 mark to make it a one-point game.

Stanford quickly flipped momentum to its favor. The officials’ missed a Cardinal kicked ball that led to a fastbreak scoring opportunity that boosted the lead to 64-59. The Gamecocks called a timeout at the 1:33 mark to regroup.

After two offensive rebounds, Henderson capitalized on the Carolina possession with a critical three-point play the old fashion way, 64-62 at the 1:09 mark.

The fourth quarter was Henny time in Texas. She put the Gamecocks ahead on a three-point field goal with 38 seconds remaining in the game, 65-64.

Henderson scored nine straight points during that stretch to help the Gamecocks retake the lead.

Stanford’s sophomore guard Haley Jones pushed the Cardinal back in front on a broken possession. Jones collected a Stanford miss and then hit a jumper from the baseline that made it 66-65 with 32 seconds left to play.

Henderson’s lone miscue in the fourth came with 14 seconds remaining. She was stopped driving to the basket, and her pass out from underneath was intercepted. Carolina fouled at the 13-second mark.

The Gamecocks stole the rock back with five seconds to play by trapping the Cardinal at half-court.

Boston secured the loose ball and passed it up to Beal. The Gamecocks were unable to will the ball through the net.

Cooke was phenomenal. She matched a career-high with five made triples and scored a game-high 25 points.

Gamecock star forward Boston ran into some foul trouble. The Cardinal capitalized on Boston’s absence in stretches, outscoring the Gamecocks by 14 points when the Carolina enforcer sat.

For Carolina, it’s the program’s second National Semifinal loss under Staley by a single-point. It was by the same score no less in 2015, 66-65 to Notre Dame.

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