South Carolina knocks off Stanford; Punches ticket to championship game
Fans got what they expected from the opening game between the South Carolina Gamecocks and Stanford Cardinal at the Women’s Final Four at the American Center Airlines in Dallas, TX.
Since the tip-off, both teams were in a shootout with the Gamecocks maintaining a two-point lead over the Cardinal till the end of the first quarter.
The Cardinal did not stay down for long.
At 9:13 minutes into the second quarter, Stanford’s Erica McCall tied the game 14-14 with an assist from Marta Sniezek. A minute later, Brittney McPhee scored a three-point bucket to give the Cardinal the lead.
“Her [McPhee] pushing the ball gave us a lot of energy. She really locked down some key layups for us,” McCall said. “Got that big and-one for us. I was really proud of how she performed.”
Unfortunately for Stanford, Karlie Samuelson sprained her right ankle with about 4 1/2 minutes left in the second quarter and had to be carried off the floor. Samuelson did not return to game.
Samuelson was scoreless, going 0-2 on three pointers.
“For us, honestly, we just really struggled without our glue out there, Karlie, twisting her ankle. Really kind of gave us a tough time,” Stanford basketball coach Tara VanDerveer. “Her presence on the floor keeps the pressure off of our bigs. She plays great defense, and just having her out there talking to people, keeping us focused on what we need to do — yeah, it was a big hit. But we kept our heads up and we kept battling.”
Despite Samuelson’s absence, Stanford managed to maintain a 10-point lead leading into the half-break.
“Our team got a little out of rhythm, even at the end of the first half, when Karlie came out,” VanDerveer said. “We did not come out as aggressive as we needed to be. I thought we were really short on a lot of shots.”
Samuelson’s lack of presence on the court reflected on Stanford’s inability to decrease South Carolina’s aggressiveness with A’ja Wilson leading the charge in the third quarter.
“The second half, I thought we just imposed our will from a defensive standpoint,” South Carolina basketball coach, Dawn Staley said. “Sped the game up, and got playing at a pace which benefited our style of play.”
Wilson’s consistency with her physical aggressiveness throughout the game, widening the Gamecocks’ opportunities to score during rebounds through the remainder of the third quarter, allowing South Carolina to retake the lead (41-37).
“I just kind of let the game come to me,” Wilson said. “I want to make an impact on my team any way I can. Tonight obviously was kind of rebounding. But it goes to show, you know, you got to find a different way in the game that you can impact your team. I think rebounding kind of stuck out to me. I just tried to get every ball that I could.”
Wilson recorded 19 rebounds, four assists, two steals and three blocks
Stanford had a couple of flashes of bring the score down in the fourth quarter, but between Samuelson’s lack of leadership presence in the court and being able to adjust to the Gamecock’s game pace, defeat was inevitable.
South Carolina, 62-53, victory over Stanford becomes its first game they have won against Stanford in school history after losing the previous first five in a row. Marking its first win at the Women’s Final Four and advancement to its first NCAA Championship game.
“You know, I think leading up to the game, you think about all the wonderful things that we’ve accomplished together,” Staley said. “She’s been one of my biggest supporters since I’ve been in coaching. She’s what’s right for women’s basketball. She wants younger coaches to have can’t thank her enough. But then you start thinking about, you know, they throw up statistics on the television screen, 0-5 coaching against her. You think at some point the law of averages should play out at some point.”
With Mississippi State upsetting the defending champions, South Carolina will face its Southeastern Conference mate in the Women’s Final Four Finals Sunday evening for a chance to become National Champions.