Gamecocks welcome Final 4 rematch with Stanford Cardinal

Stanford forward Francesca Belibi, right, greets South Carolina forward Aliyah Boston (4) after...
Stanford forward Francesca Belibi, right, greets South Carolina forward Aliyah Boston (4) after a women's Final Four NCAA college basketball tournament semifinal game Friday, April 2, 2021, at the Alamodome in San Antonio. Stanford won 66-65. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)(Eric Gay | AP)
Published: Dec. 20, 2021 at 10:00 PM EST
Email This Link
Share on Pinterest
Share on LinkedIn

COLUMBIA, S.C. (WIS) -The top two teams clash in Columbia Tuesday night. The number one ranked Gamecocks host the second-ranked Stanford Cardinal.

It’s a rematch from last season’s Final Four battle. Stanford escaped with a one-point victory and went on to win the national title.

“Destiny,” said Gamecocks head coach Dawn Staley. “It just wasn’t our day.”

Let’s flashback to April 2nd. The Gamecocks were seconds away from advancing to the title game. But South Carolina missed its two looks in the final seconds in an attempt to sink Stanford. Brea Beal’s layup rolled off the iron, and the putback did not drop.

“It lingered for a while,” Beal said. “But at some point, to be better, you have to get over it.”

“The quicker you can turn the page and onto things you can control-- winning games the following year,” added Staley.

And this season, Carolina’s won each time out on the court.

“I think we’re a different team than we were last year, certainly from an offensive standpoint and a defensive standpoint,” Staley said. “I think we’re a bit sharper on both sides of the basketball.”

The Gamecocks returned everyone from the Final 4 team and added vital newcomers. It’s led to an 11-0 start and the number one ranking.

“We got players that have played together,” Staley said. “Our core group does not like to lose. They’ve got a lot of games under their belt as a unit.”

Stanford rolls into Columbia with an 8-2 overall record, with losses to South Florida and Texas. Do not let the pair of losses trick you into thinking the Cardinal are not formidable. They still bring a talented group to the CLA.

“Their offense, they space you out,” Staley said. “They back door cut you. There’s a fluidness to it. We have to disrupt that. They get down in transition. They have a player in Haley Jones that can run point-forward. And she does a lot of her damage in transition.”

Stanford will undoubtedly bring its best effort against the Gamecocks Tuesday at 7 pm. Carolina’s quite used to that, with the number one ranking next to its name. The Gamecocks get everyone’s best shot.

“We’re in the number one spot,” Staley said. “I think our players are handling it well. We don’t think very highly of ourselves. We know what our weaknesses are. We have yet to put a complete game together. Our defense is holding us up. We’re trying to just clean up our offense.”

Helping the offense on Tuesday will be the return of senior point guard Destanni Henderson. She’s missed the last few games with an injury. Staley expects Henderson to log some minutes against the Cardinal. She did not say if Henderson would start or how much she would play. Henderson leads the team in assists (36), despite missing three games.

Playing the defending champs provides another tough test. Carolina’s aced the previous five against Top-15 opponents this season.

“It’s a game to see where we are at,” Beal said. “See how we’ve gelled together throughout the season. It’s another step forward.”

Although revenge might be on Gamecock fans’ minds, it does not consume the players’ thoughts. For them, they want to win because that’s what they do. And Carolina knows the FAMs will do what they do on game day.

“I expect to hear them echoing throughout the whole arena,” added Beal.

Copyright 2021 WIS. All rights reserved.

Notice a spelling or grammar error in this article? Click or tap here to report it. Please include the article’s headline.