STOCKTON, Calif. – No. 3/4 South Carolina is headed back to the Final Four after topping No. 10/13 Florida State 71-64 in the Elite Eight Monday night at Stockton Arena. The victory secured the Gamecocks’ second berth in the Final Four in three years and pushed their record to 31-4 on the season. The Seminoles concluded their season with a mark of 28-7 following the loss.
Four Carolina players finished in double figures, including junior guard Kaela Davis, who recorded her third-straight 20-point outing after finishing with a game-high 23. The Suwanee, Ga., native shot 10-of-15 from the floor for a Gamecock team that received 55 points from its backcourt. Freshman guard Tyasha Harris added a career-best 16 points and grabbed two crucial rebounds late in the contest for Carolina, which weathered a 15-5 fourth-quarter run by the Seminoles. Guard Allisha Gray scored nine of her 11 points in the first half, while fellow junior A’ja Wilson netted 16 points despite spending much of the night in foul trouble. Wilson recorded four blocks, two of which came during the crucial final 30 seconds of the game. Carolina’s starters accounted for 69 of its 71 points, with sophomore guard Doniyah Cliney marking the only Gamecock to register a field goal off the bench.
The backcourt sparked the Gamecock offense in the early going, and a layup from Davis followed by a straightaway 3-pointer from Gray handed Carolina a 5-0 lead with 8:54 to play in the first quarter. Davis continued to deliver plays on the offensive end over the next few minutes, drilling a jumper from the right side before slashing into the paint and finding Wilson to set up a three-point play for the forward. Wilson’s free throw made it 10-6, and Carolina opened up a 15-8 advantage with 4:30 remaining in the period when Harris converted a three-point play after intercepting a Florida State in-bounds pass and laying it in while drawing the contact.
The Gamecocks, who connected on seven of their first 11 field goal attempts, remained in control down the stretch of the quarter as Wilson began to impose her will. The junior knocked in a jumper from the right elbow to establish a 17-10, and a nice move from the forward freed her up for a basket inside that put her team in front 19-12 with 2:23 left in the quarter. Harris capped off Carolina’s strong shooting start with a 3-pointer from straightaway, and the Gamecocks headed to the first break leading 24-17. Wilson netted nine first-quarter points on 4-of-5 shooting to go with four rebounds and a pair of blocks.
Carolina grabbed its largest lead of the night when Wilson connected on two more free throws to get into double figures and give the Gamecocks a 28-19 advantage with 7:14 remaining in the first half. The Seminoles fought back, and a 6-0 Florida State run brought them to within three at 28-25 near the midway point of the second quarter. After Wilson was charged with her second foul of the contest, the Gamecock backcourt picked up the slack and stretched the lead to double-digits. A layup by Davis made it 30-25 before Harris knocked down a jumper from the top of the free throw line to put the Gamecocks ahead 32-27 with just under four minutes to go in the quarter. Gray delivered the plays over the next few minutes, starting with a tough turnaround shot near the left side of the paint. Her bucket pushed the advantage to 34-27, and the guard scored in transition a minute later after splitting a pair of defenders and converting inside to hand Carolina a 36-27 cushion.
Gray’s productive stretch to close the half continued with a steal that led to a Florida State foul that put Davis on the line with 20 seconds left in the half. The two free throws from Davis marked the final points of the half for the Gamecocks, who made five of their final seven shot attempts of the period and headed to the locker room leading 40-29. Davis tallied 12 points over the first two periods to join Wilson in double figures, while Gray accounted for nine first-half points after connecting on each of her three shots in the opening 20 minutes.
Carolina’s guards were again tasked with carrying the offense after Wilson picked up her third foul 21 seconds into the third quarter. Davis answered the call, knocking down a jumper from the right side to make it 42-31 before making a hook shot from just outside the paint to give the Gamecocks a 44-33 lead with 8:06 left in the period. The junior standout continued to make it look easy, and Davis drove around the Florida State defense for another layup on the right block to put Carolina ahead 48-37 with less than seven minutes to play in the quarter. Baskets from Harris and Cliney pushed the advantage to 15 at 52-37 midway through the period against a Florida State squad that started the second half just 3-of-12 from the floor. Davis’ fourth field goal of the quarter, a runner from the left side, gave her 20 points and halted a brief Carolina scoring drought. The Gamecocks entered the final break in front 55-45 after receiving all 15 of their third-quarter points from their backcourt.
A 3-pointer from Harris 38 seconds into the fourth quarter gave Carolina some more breathing room and made it 58-45. Florida State chipped away at the lead over the next few minutes, and a 3-pointer from Seminole guard Leticia Romero brought her team to within six at 62-56 with 6:14 to play. Romero made it a five-point game with another jumper to cut the Gamecock advantage to 65-60 with less than four minutes remaining, and the Seminole deficit shrunk to three at 65-62 following a steal and layup from guard Brittany Brown. That’s as close as Florida State would get, and a tough left-handed layup from Davis pushed the Gamecock lead to 67-62 with 1:42 to play. The scoring play was made possible by Harris, who grabbed a pivotal offensive rebound seconds earlier to set Davis up for the key bucket. Harris played big down the stretch, and a defensive rebound from the guard put her on the line with 11 seconds remaining. She converted one free throw to stretch the lead to 69-64 before intercepting the ensuing Florida State in-bounds pass. The Seminoles were forced to foul, and Harris knocked in the two free throw to clinch the victory.
The Gamecocks shot 57.8 percent from the floor and connected on 16 of their 20 free throw attempts. Carolina, which never trailed in the game, scored 16 points off turnovers and accounted for five of the game’s six blocks.
Carolina freshman guard Tyasha Harris’ offensive rebound with two minutes left kept the Gamecocks in possession of the ball and allowed junior guard Kaela Davis to push the lead to 67-62 on a layup from the left side. Her six rebounds on the night marked a career high.
Carolina forced the Seminoles to take their chances from beyond the arc, and they could not convert. Florida State finished the game just 2-of-15 from the 3-point line.
- South Carolina is the 10th school to have both its men’s and women’s program advance to the Final Four in the same season. Georgia (1983) and LSU (2006) mark the two members of the SEC to accomplish the feat.
- Monday’s win improved the Gamecocks to 2-0 in the Elite Eight under coach Dawn Staley.
- Guard Kaela Davis joins fellow junior A’ja Wilson as the other Gamecock to record three-straight 20-point games this season. Davis has scored 20 or more points in five of Carolina’s last eight contests.
- The victory over the Seminoles gives the Gamecocks 10 wins over ranked opponents this season. Six of those triumphs have come against top-10 foes.
The Gamecocks will face second-seeded Stanford in the Final Four on Fri., March 31, in Dallas. Tipoff from American Airlines Center is set for 7:30 p.m. ET, and the contest will air on ESPN2.