NCAA Women’s Tournament: South Carolina and Texas Advance to the Round of 8

GREENSBORO, NC — There could be only one winner in the battle of the Carolinas.

South Carolina, hungry for its first national championship title in five years, edged North Carolina in the round of 16 in the NCAA women’s tournament, defeating the Tar Heels, 69-61, on Friday night.

While the Tar Heels have been on a disruptive path in the Greensboro region, sending fourth-seeded Arizona packing on its home court in the second round, the young team was no match for the depth of the Gamecocks. Aliyah Boston, the star junior forward who has been the centerpiece of her team, secured her 27th consecutive double-double with 28 points and 22 rebounds, and the senior forward Victaria Saxton delivered when her team needed her most from her with 14 rebounds and two key blocks.

Boston secured all 13 points for South Carolina in the fourth quarter.

But the wind did not come easily. South Carolina struggled to keep up with the speedy Tar Heels in the first half as they repeatedly drove downcourt, staying low and fast down the lane. The Gamecocks allowed 23 points in the first quarter. Deja Kelly, North Carolina’s sophomore guard, danced around South Carolina’s defense to lead her team with 23 points.

But Destanni Henderson and Zia Cooke responded with the speed and scoring the Gamecocks needed to stay afloat. Henderson finished with 13 points and Cooke scored 15, ending the second quarter on her back after a successful jump shot. When they missed a basket, Boston came in and finished it off with two, three, sometimes four Tar Heels nearly hanging off her.

“That was a tough game — hats off to North Carolina for playing an extremely efficient basketball game,” Coach Dawn Staley said. “They pushed us to the limit.”

The game was the third Sweet 16 matchup between the programs since 2014, and North Carolina’s first appearance in the third round since 2015, when it was lost to South Carolina. The Gamecocks will next face the winner of Friday night’s game between Iowa State and Creighton.

Gamecock and Tar Heel fans alike filled the Greensboro Coliseum, just a three-hour drive from Columbia, SC, and an hour’s drive from Chapel Hill, NC, creating a sea of ​​light blue and red against South Carolina’s neon green and pink sneakers.

The Gamecocks were looking for redemption after losing to Stanford last year in the semifinals by two points. But coming into Friday’s game, a Gamecock win was far from a sure bet. While their ferocious defense, one of the best in the tournament, has denied its competition again and again, the Gamecocks’ offense has struggled to convert drives to points.

“This shows it’s only going to get tougher and tougher,” Cooke said after the game. “We have keep our foot on the gas the whole time.”

— Remy Tumin

SPOKANE, Wash. — Texas advanced to the round of 8 for the second straight tournament with a 66-63 victory over Ohio State on Friday, aided by decisive play from its senior guard Joanne Allen-Taylor and the team’s go-to post players, Lauren Ebo and Aaliyah Moore.

The Buckeyes’ best two scorers all season, Jacy Sheldon and Taylor Mikesell, combined for 36 points, not enough to overcome the Longhorns’ physical defense.

The Longhorns took an early lead, staying ahead until Texas’ point guard, the freshman Rori Harmon, picked up two fouls in the first quarter when a charge and a blocking call didn’t go her way in quick succession.

From that point, it started to look as if Ohio State might beat Texas at its own game, pressing the Longhorns from baseline to baseline every time they inbounded the ball. Texas Coach Vic Schaefer said that the press “is just who we are” before the game, but it was the Buckeyes who threatened turnovers every time the Longhorns had to take the ball across halfcourt.

The Buckeyes ended the first quarter with a 4-point lead thanks in large part to Sheldon, who kept finding ways to score even when opportunities to shoot were hard to come by.

Allen-Taylor, who finished the first half with 13 points and added 4 in the second, allowed Texas to go into the locker room with a lead by muscling to the basket with just three seconds left and coming away with the bucket and the foul. That she was able to escape the first half without a single personal foul was particularly notable, given how physical the game was to that point. The teams combined for just one successful 3-pointer in the first half, and players had to battle for every attempt whether it was beyond the arc or inside it.

The Longhorns found a little momentum midway through the third quarter, forcing turnovers and scoring off them while getting second-chance points. But Ohio State’s senior guard Braxtin Miller hit all but one shot she attempted that quarter, scoring 8 points and keeping Texas from getting comfortable.

Still, the Buckeyes started to look a little less energized and began to lay off their full-court press. Entering the final frame, Texas had stretched its lead to 5 points.

Texas would lead by as many as 10 points, until Ohio State forced a series of turnovers that brought the game right back within reach with just four minutes remaining. The Longhorns’ lead shrank to 1 point as the game clock wound down, and the Buckeyes had the ball. But Texas was able to use the defense that has been its calling card all season long, force a turnover and make its free throws to seal the win.

— Natalie Weiner

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