Stanford reaches title game after South Carolina misses heartbreaking final chances

Stanford survived a late turnover and two game-winning looks by South Carolina to advance to the NCAA women's basketball championship game. The Cardinal won, 66-65, and advance to their fifth title game in program history.

They'll continue to extend the tournament record for 3-pointers that the Cardinal set on Friday. They were 5-for-8 as a team and broke the previous team mark of 54 set by UConn. They currently have 55.

South Carolina misses final chances

The Gamecocks committed a costly turnover with 15 seconds to play when Destanni Henderson was kept from driving and attempted a pass to Aliyah Boston on the perimeter. Ashten Prechtel stepped in for the steal.

Stanford then turned it over on the inbound play and Boston collected the ball while surrounded at midcourt. She dished it off to Brea Beal, who couldn't quite get by the Stanford defender and missed her shot from the left side. It bounced back toward the paint, where Boston was trailing to rebound, and her put-back was too deep.

It was a heartbreaking ending and one similar to South Carolina's loss to Connecticut earlier this year. The team missed four last-chance attempts in that one.

"We got a pretty decent two looks at it," South Carolina head coach Dawn Staley said after the game "I thought about the UConn game, I thought it was gonna be redemption for Aliyah, just for the ball to drop in. But it wasn't in the cards for us."

The Gamecocks trailed by a few buckets against Stanford most of the game, but took the lead late and had their chances.

Jones gives Stanford late lead back

Stanford's defense lagged off guard Destanni Henderson early on and she made them pay in the second half. Her 3-pointer with 2:50 to play cut the South Carolina deficit to one, 60-59. Kiana Williams answered with a jumper and Stanford scored in transition on a missed kick call around midcourt that pushed their lead, 64-59.

Henderson answered again with an and-1 after Boston, playing with four fouls, collected the rebound. The defense forced Lexie Hull into a turnover and Brea Beal took it the distance, only to be met by Stanford's Haley Jones. Henderson got it on the perimeter and her third 3-pointer gave South Carolina its first lead since the first quarter, 65-64.

Jones, Stanford's steady offensive power in the semifinal, hit a jumper after a frantic set of rebounds that proved to be the game-winner.

Stanford has depth and height, keeping South Carolina's guards from driving into the paint. They combined for 12 blocks, led by six from freshman Cameron Brink, and were narrowly out-rebounded, 40-36. The Cardinal forced the Gamecocks to rely on perimeter shooting and they couldn't put up quite enough.

Jones leads Stanford; Cooke leads Gamecocks

Stanford guard Haley Jones (30) celebrates after making a basket during the second half of a women's Final Four NCAA college basketball tournament semifinal game against South Carolina Friday, April 2, 2021, at the Alamodome in San Antonio. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)
Stanford guard Haley Jones (30) celebrates after making a basket during the second half of a women's Final Four NCAA college basketball tournament semifinal game against South Carolina Friday, April 2, 2021, at the Alamodome in San Antonio. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)

Haley Jones led the way for Stanford with 24 points on 11-for-14 shooting. She had four rebounds, two assists, one steal and one block even while sitting on the bench in the second quarter with two early fouls. She was the go-to player for a team deep with talent.

Lexis Hull scored 18 points on 4-for-17 shooting, adding 13 rebounds and was 8-for-8 from the free throw line. Senior Kiana Williams had a quiet night with eight points and Prechtel kept up her big contributions off the bench with nine points and eight rebounds.

The Cardinal out-rebounded South Carolina for most of the game and couldn't contain Zia Cooke on the perimeter. Cooke had 25 points on 10-for-23 shooting and hit five of eight 3-pointers. She made offense happen for South Carolina.

Boston had an 11-point, 16-rebound double-double. She was in-and-out for most of the fourth quarter after collecting four fouls and had to play differently, which benefitted Stanford down the stretch.

Stanford answers hot South Carolina start

Stanford came out shaky again, committing four turnovers and five missed shots to trail, 15-6, by the first media timeout of the game. It was then South Carolina’s turn for a quiet stretch. The Gamecocks went on a nine-minute scoreless streak as Stanford tied it, 15-15, at the first break and slowly built a 17-2 run to get back into the game.

The Cardinal started hitting 3-pointers, the biggest part of their game this tournament, and tied the tournament series record of 54 by the break. They held a 31-25 halftime lead largely without Jones, their big playmaker.

Jones scored or assisted on 12 of Stanford’s 15 points in the first quarter, per ESPN Stats and Information, but committed her second foul late in the period.

Stanford coach Tara VanDerveer was able to keep her on the bench all of the second quarter even while Boston, who had four blocks, put the wall up in the paint. Ashten Prechtel stepped in off the bench to score seven points and seven of their 23 rebounds. It was a rare half that the Gamecocks were beat out on the boards.

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