SAN ANTONIO – Sixth Texas went cold at its worst and couldn’t pose a believable threat to South Carolina. Louisville had a clear shot at Stanford, but the cardinal with the best seeds came back in the second half – and a few more.
Both Stanford and South Carolina, number 1 in an NCAA women’s basketball tournament field that has given the teams at the top a reasonable level of difficulty, moved to the Final Four on Tuesday night to join another number 1, UConn. and Arizona with the third seed.
Stanford finished last in the national semifinals with a 78-63 loss to Louisville after being 12 points behind at halftime. South Carolina sailed in the round of 16 with a 62:34 win over Texas.
The ultimate sign of futility after a run that affected UCLA and Maryland, Texas scored 0 points in the fourth quarter – all 15 shots were missing. The Longhorns shot 23 percent for the game.
The Gamecocks dominated their third trip to the national semifinals from the start and their first since winning a national title in 2017.
“When we got knocked down four times this season, they got stronger again,” said Dawn Staley, South Carolina coach, in a post-game television interview, citing the Gamecocks’ four losses this year. “And that is the mark of a true champion.”
Louisville’s Dana Evans gained 10 of their 24 points in the first quarter, while the Cardinals Stanford fell below 28 percent in the first half.
But a 13-0 run towards the end of the third quarter put the cardinal in the lead as he began to contain Louisville’s top scorer. Then Stanford ran away for the last 10 minutes. Lexie Hull had 21 points and 9 rebounds while Haley Jones had 10 points and 10 rebounds.
Stanford’s Ashten Prechtel, who finished with 16 points and took all six shots, opened the fourth quarter with a 3-pointer that boosted Stanford’s confidence and sparked a crucial run.
Repeatedly fed color to Victaria Saxton, Zia Cooke and Destanni Henderson snaked effortlessly through the infamous Texas Defense. Cooke led by 16 points, adding 6 rebounds and 3 assists. Henderson had 12 points and 7 assists while Saxton had 12 points and 8 rebounds.
The Longhorns briefly shifted into gear in the third quarter as more and more Texan fans came into the audience after work, adding to the cheers and screams that paced up and down the Alamodome’s cave-like stadium walls.
Audrey Warren, who led Texas with 13 points, scored two of her – and the team’s – three 3-point points in the third quarter. And at one point, on a second chance from Lauren Ebo, Texas came within 10 points of South Carolina.
But that was as close as the Longhorns after South Carolina had an early 15 point lead and 14 points less than Texas. The Longhorns looked exhausted and dejected after Warren scored their final points in the third quarter. They had South Carolina celebrating with a big run early on as they continued to watch their shots ricochet off the edge without adding a single point to their result over the past 10-minute period.
“It was hard not to get too excited,” said Cooke of South Carolina about the last quarter in a post-game conversation with reporters.
According to the organization’s records, it was the first goalless streak of the women’s tournament since the NCAA moved from half to quarter in 2016. (South Dakota previously had a record in a tournament game with a 1-point period against Oregon in the first round for the quarter with the lowest score.)
“I thought it was a pretty good defensive performance, but I also think Texas was a little tired,” said Staley.
The Longhorns and Gamecocks hadn’t met since 2016, but Texas coach Vic Schaefer and Staley did – even for the national title in Dallas in 2017 when Schaefer coached the state of Mississippi. The Bulldogs ended UConn’s 111-game winning streak to get there, but South Carolina prevailed in its only championship. Staley defeated Schaefer in 12 of 15 meetings when they were opponents of the Southeastern Conference.
“I always look forward to playing Vic because of what he puts into his scouting reports, game plan and plans,” Staley told reporters on Monday.
Even without the pandemic, Texas saw significant change this summer when Schaefer took on longtime trainer Karen Aston. Players recalled having difficulty getting to know themselves and their coaches over video calls and limited practice, and said this helped them connect and climax at the right time in the controlled environment set up for the tournament.
It was a relatively quiet night for South Carolina second striker Aliyah Boston and Texas Junior Center Charli Collier, who both had doubled that tournament on average and competed against each other on Tuesday night. Boston, which was named for Some Player of the Year, had 10 points and 8 rebounds. Collier, who is expected to be number 1 in the WNBA draft, was held to 4 points after 8 out of 10 misses.
Boston also got off to a slow start in the South Carolina round of 16 against Georgia Tech, but picked it up in the second half, where they scored all 9 points. But in that game their teammates stepped in, led by Cooke with 17 points in a 76-65 win.
With their powerful defense, Texas was also able to bring Maryland down to the lowest point of the season as number 2 in a 64-61 surprise to advance to the round of 16 by restricting the Terrapins’ holdings and forcing 11 turnovers.
The fans also helped, said Schäfer. The University of Austin is about 80 miles from San Antonio, the hub of the tournament where most of the games were played. “I thought our fans offer both teams a great environment,” said Schäfer on Monday.
South Carolina will play against Stanford. On Monday evening, UConn with the number 1 and Arizona with the number 3 pushed past their opponents to prepare for the other semifinals. Both semifinals are scheduled for Friday evening.