Aliyah Boston leads South Carolina’s No. 1 into women’s final after victory over Louisville

MINNEAPOLIS – The team that has held the No. 1 spot in women’s basketball since this season began, South Carolina, will compete for the NCAA championship on Sunday.

The Gamecocks, the No. 1 seed overall, beat another No. 1, Louisville, 72-59 at Target Center in the Women’s Four Finals semifinals Friday.

South Carolina (34-2) will be in the NCAA finals for the second time in program history. The Gamecocks won the 2017 national championship game. South Carolina lost in the SEC final last month on Kentucky’s 3-pointer late, but will now compete for the most meaningful title.

“I think we had instances at the end of the season where we weren’t interested in the business in the fourth quarter,” said South Carolina coach Dawn Staley. “So I know it’s on our players’ minds. It’s on my mind. And we’re ready. I think nine games will go into the fourth half, and I just said: ‘Okay, let’s get started.’

“I think with anything, life in general, it’s going to throw you tests. You’re either going to have to pass the tests or you’re going to have to retake the exam. I think we’ve been put in place. Our mind didn’t pass the test – against Kentucky – and they made us pay for it. And we’ve had other cases in the league where we’ve faced it, and we’ve had it. I took it to another level.”

Taking it up another notch is exactly what Gamecocks did on Friday.

South Carolina junior Aliyah Boston saw her double streak finish in 27th in the Gamecocks’ Elite Eight win over Creighton. But she came right back with a sixth business double, finishing with 23 points and 18 rebounds. She also has four assists and looks like someone who has won every national player of the year award to date.

“With the awards, I’m really lucky,” Boston said. “But my main focus is on bringing home a national championship on Sunday night, so I’m just really focused on that.”

Boston, who also won Naismith’s defensive player of the year, anchored the Gamecocks’ defense making things difficult for Louisville, who finished the season 29-5.

After last year’s 66-65 national semi-final loss to Stanford, in which she missed what should have been a reverse win right before the sirens, Boston was in tears. She has watched the video of her heartbreak reaction too many times since and has spoken of her determination not to go through anything like that again in the Final Four.

“Thinking about going into the season last year, we just know we’re down,” said Boston, who shed “happy tears” after the game. “But that’s not something we keep thinking about, because we know this is a new team. We have a lot more depth, so we have to come in every night.”

However, Friday’s game didn’t have the kind of drama like last year’s semi-final. South Carolina led 11-2 as the Gamecocks made 5 of their first 10 shots and the Cardinals just 1 of 6. And for the most part, that set the tone for the rest of the game. Louisville ran away, but South Carolina took control of the contest.

South Carolina led 17-10 after the first quarter, in which the Cardinals were mostly limited to jumps. This is the first time since January 23 against Wake Forest that the Cardinals have come through after the opening inning.

However, the Cardinals fought back. At 6:48 of the second half, striker Emily Engstler stole a pass and came on for the game, giving Louisville a 20-19 lead.

At halftime, the Gamecocks continued to increase 34-28, leading by 8 points and 8 rebounds from Boston. The good news for the Cardinals is that they made it to round six even though keeper Hailey Van Lith was limited to two points. The sad news is that Van Lith’s night didn’t get any better in the second half. After scoring at least 20 points in the first four games of the NCAA tournament in Louisville, she was limited to nine games Friday.

“They did a great job making it difficult for me to get the ball,” Van Lith said. “Obviously they weren’t going to let me touch them. Basically, they protected me the whole game. I was a bit passive with their length. I needed to go earlier and be more aggressive, but they did. very well done their game plan with me.”

One of the players primarily responsible for limiting Van Lith was South Carolina guard Brea Beal, who is known for his defensive prowess.

“I think it’s just a mentality to have every game,” Beal said. “You can’t just turn it on and off when you choose. Especially now, you just have to lock and know your job is to attack and defend.”

Engstler fouled the fourth with 4.2 seconds left in the third inning, then the Gamecocks led 57-48. Then the transfer from Syracuse, who has brought a lot of energy to the Cardinals this season, fouled with 4:56 left in the game and buried his head in his hands on the bench in Louisville. In her final game in college — she announced for the upcoming WNBA draft — she had 18 points and nine rebounds.

South Carolina had four players other than Boston who finished with double points: Brea Beal with 12 points, Destanni Henderson 11 and Victaria Saxton and Zia Cooke with 10 each.

South Carolina will face Stanford or UConn in a national championship match; The Gamecocks beat both teams in the regular season. Their victory over UConn was 73-57 on November 22 in the championship game of the Battle of Atlantis in the Bahamas. They beat Stanford 65-61 in Columbia, South Carolina, on December 21.

“Is there an advantage? No. No advantage,” Staley said of having beaten both teams. “When you’re playing for a national championship, it’s the team that can quickly get into their routine and stay there.” Aliyah Boston leads South Carolina’s No. 1 into women’s final after victory over Louisville

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