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

MEMORIAL POLICE – The team that has been No. 1 in women’s basketball since this season began, South Carolina, will play for the NCAA Championship on Sunday.

Gamecocks, the No. 1 overall, beat another No. 1, Louisville, 72-59 at the Target Center in the women’s Final Four semifinals Friday.

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

“I think we had cases late in the season where we did not take care of business in the fourth quarter,” said South Carolina coach Dawn Staley. “So I know it’s in the back of our players’ minds. It was in the back of our minds. And we were up, I think nine going into the fourth quarter and I’m just saying, ‘OK, now we’re going to.’

“I think just with anything, life in general, it’s going to throw tests at you. You’ll have to pass the tests, or you’ll have to take them again. I thought we were put in positions “where we did not pass the test – against Kentucky – and they made us pay for it. And we had other cases during the tournament where we faced it and we took it to another level.”

To screw up another notch is exactly what the Gamecocks did on Friday.

South Carolina junior postman Aliyah Boston saw her double-double streak end at 27 in the Gamecocks’ Elite Eight victory over Creighton. But she just got back into double-double business on Friday, finishing with 23 points and 18 rebounds. She also had four assists and looked like one who has won all of this year’s national players so far.

“With the awards, I’m really blessed,” Boston said. “But my main focus is to bring home a national championship on Sunday night, so I’m just really locked into it.”

Boston, which also won Naismith’s defensive player of the year honor, anchored a Gamecocks defense that made everything difficult for Louisville, which ended its season 29-5.

After last year’s 66-65 national semifinal loss to Stanford, where she missed what would have been a game-winning setback just before the buzzer, Boston was left in tears. She has seen the video of her tormented reaction far too many times since and has talked about that she was determined not to experience anything similar again in the Final Four.

“When we think about last year coming into the season, we just knew we were falling short,” said Boston, who shed “happy tears” after the game. “But it’s not something we kept thinking about because we knew this was a new team. We have a lot more depth, so we just have to come to play every night.”

Friday’s match, however, did not have the kind of drama that last year’s semifinals had. South Carolina got an 11-2 lead as the Gamecocks made five of their first 10 shots and the Cardinals only 1 of 6. And for the most part, it set the tone for the rest of the game. Louisville managed its races, but South Carolina controlled the competition.

South Carolina led 17-10 after the first quarter, with the Cardinals largely limited to jump shots. It was the first time since January 23 vs. Wake Forest that the Cardinals were behind after the opening quarter.

The Cardinals, however, fought back. At 6:48 in the second quarter, Emily Engstler stole a pass and went into layup, giving Louisville its first lead of 20-19.

At the break, the Gamecocks were up again 34-28, led by eight points and eight rebounds from Boston. The good news for the Cardinals is that they were within six despite guard Hailey Van Lith being limited to two points. The bad news is that Van Lith’s night did not get much better in the second half. After scoring at least 20 points in Louisville’s first four games in the NCAA Tournament, she was limited to nine on Friday.

“They did a really good job of making it hard for me to get the ball,” Van Lith said. “They obviously would not let me get touched. They have basically protected my face the whole match. I played a little passive with their length. I needed to get started earlier and be more aggressive, but they did a good job with the performer. 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 defense.

“I think it’s just a mentality to have every single fight,” Beal said. “You can not just turn it on and off when you choose to. Especially now you just have to lock yourself in and know what your job is to do offensively and defensively.”

Engstler got his fourth error with 4.2 seconds left of the third quarter, after which the Gamecocks led 57-48. Then the transfer from Syracuse, which brought so much energy to the Cardinals this season, broke out with four to five left of the match and buried her head in her hands on the Louisville bench. In her last college game – she has declared herself for the upcoming WNBA draft – she had 18 points and nine rebounds.

South Carolina had four other players besides Boston who finished in double-digit scores: Brea Beal had 12 points, Destanni Henderson 11 and Victaria Saxton and Zia Cooke 10 each.

South Carolina will face either Stanford or UConn in the national championship game; The Gamecocks beat both teams in the regular season. Their victory over UConn was 73-57 on November 22 in the championship game of Battle 4 Atlantis in the Bahamas. They beat Stanford 65-61 in Columbia, South Carolina, on December 21st.

“Is there an edge? No. There is not an edge,” Staley said of having defeated both teams already. “When you play for a national championship, it’s the team that can quickly get into their habits and stay there.”

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