No. 1 South Carolina’s defense halts USF’s NCAA title hopes
After a valiant effort in the first half against No. 1 South Carolina, No. 8 USF women’s basketball’s season came to an end after a 76-45 loss in the second round of the NCAA tournament on Friday afternoon in Columbia, South Carolina.
Although the odds were against them, the Bulls (27-7) defense put pressure on the Gamecocks (34-0) in the first quarter. They allowed only four points in the paint and ended the period with a 16-12 lead.
South Carolina remained aggressive in the second, scoring eight points in the paint and approaching the foul line nine times. Gamecock senior forward Aliyah Boston made a basket inside the paint to help the team take a seven-point lead of 34-27.
The Bulls remained present in the contest through their strong three-point shooting, going four for nine in the first half. Senior guard Elena Tsineke led the team in scoring with 20 points and made a three with four seconds remaining in the half, cutting the deficit to 33-30.
Coach Jose Fernandez gave credit to his team for rising to the moment during the first 20 minutes of play.
“I think it didn’t phase us. They missed shots in the first half, and we made some, and we just kept within striking distance. I thought our kids came out and were ready to play,” Fernandez said.
“That first quarter we were up five, so there wasn’t a question of preparation and excitement and them coming in and not being star-struck.”
However, that would be the closest South Florida would get to reclaiming the lead.
After freshman wing Carla Brito made two free throws to bring the deficit to a single possession, the Gamecocks went on a 19-5 third-quarter run and never looked back.
USC is arguably the best defensive team in the country, blocking around nine shots per game. The team turned their defensive stops into easy-scoring opportunities. Boston capped an 11-0 scoring streak in the fourth quarter with a mid-range jumper to push the lead to 31 while holding USF to 15 second-half points.
The Bulls’ upset efforts were also stalled by their performance on the glass, specifically on the offensive end. South Carolina corralled 55 rebounds and 24 offensive rebounds. South Florida collectively grabbed 24 rebounds in total.
Fernandez gave credit to how physical the Gamecocks were inside the paint, especially in the third quarter.
“That third quarter really hurt us offensively and defensively. I thought they just really assaulted the glass, and at some points, our best offense was the second shot and that’s what hurt us,” Fernandez said. “I think their physicality bothered us a little bit, too.”
Despite the season not ending in the way they hoped, Fernandez said he does not want this game to overshadow the caliber of play the team has performed all season. The Bulls tied a program record of 27 wins and won a regular season conference title.
“What I told our team, don’t let this define the year that we had. … It just got away from us in that third quarter,” Fernandez said.