South Carolina advanced to the Elite 8 for the second time in three years with a 100-58 win over Quinnipiac. Kaela Davis led all scorers with 28 points.
On paper, the game was a mismatch. South Carolina was the top seed, with the SEC player of the Year and Naismith candidate. Quinnipiac was the 12 seed, the lowest seed remaining in the men's or women's tournament, and few people knew what their mascot was or how to pronounce their name.
But it is March. A time to believe in Madness and Cinderellas. South Carolina fans know that as well as anyone, and besides, Quinnipiac had just knocked off five seed Marquette and four seed Miami in Miami. So nobody was taking Quinnipiac lightly. Especially South Carolina.
The Gamecocks dominated from the opening tip. They were focused and relentless on both ends of the court. They scored the first 16 points of the game, while the Bobcats missed their first 10 shot attempts and turned the ball over three times. The Bobcats made two free throws, their first points of the game, with 2:51 left in the first quarter. Their first field goal came almost thirty seconds later, with 2:27 left in the quarter, going 8:33 without a basket.
"I was incredibly proud of our team to be able to lock into the game plan and execute it," Dawn Staley said. "We wanted to speed them up. We didn't want them to be comfortable in their sets and allow them to read what our defense is."
South Carolina led 22-7 after the first quarter, and stretched the lead to 23 midway through the second quarter. However, Quinnipiac actually played South Carolina evenly in the second quarter, going 4-4 from three and only being outscored by three. Even when it was able to score, though, Quinnipiac had no answer on defense.
South Carolina was even more focused in the third quarter, putting up numbers that are hard to believe. South Carolina scored 31 points, shot 13-16 (81 percent) from the floor, including 3-5 from three. Oddly, it only shot 2-3 from the free throw line, its only miss of the entire game. The third quarter misses belonged to Bianca Cuevas-Moore, who missed two three-pointers, A'ja Wilson, who missed a layup, and Doniyah Cliney, who missed a free throw trying to complete a three-point play.
South Carolina emptied the bench in the fourth, and still shot 69 percent, made 5-6 threes, and outscored Quinnipiac 24-14 and finish with its highest point total of the season. Nobody for South Carolina played more than 28 minutes, a valuable bonus for a thin team playing two games in three days.
The Gamecocks finished the game shooting 61 percent from the floor, 63 percent from three, and 95 percent from the line. It scored 20 points off 17 Quinnipiac turnovers, and dominated inside. South Carolina outscored Quinnipiac 38-18 in points in the paint and held a 35-18 rebounding advantage. Usually teams that miss a lot of shots get a lot of offensive rebounds, but South Carolina did not allow an offensive rebound until Quinnipiac's 15th missed shot, and only allowed five for the entire game.
"I felt that we were playing offensive basketball on fast forward. We were trying to play too quickly instead of calmly," Quinnipiac coach Tricia Fabbri said. "Their size, speed, and length was disruptive to us."
Davis and Wilson were an unstoppable inside-outside duo for the Gamecocks. Wilson finished with 24 points on 7-9 shooting and 10-10 free throws. She also had four rebounds, two blocks, and three steals. Davis continued to thrive in the absence of Alaina Coates. Her 28 points came on 9-13 shooting, including 5-6 from three and 5-5 from the line.
"It was just a matter of getting my feet set and staying in rhythm," Davis said.
Davis also had five rebounds and three assists. In postseason play, the SEC and NCAA Tournaments, Davis is averaging 17.2 points per game, up from 11.8 in the regular season. She has also upped her rebounding, averaging 5.7 board per game in the NCAA tournament.
"She's getting to the basket a little more," Staley said, noting that with Coates out there are more driving lanes for the guards.
Allisha Gray, who's status for the game as in question with a leg injury, played 27 minutes and showed no ill-effects from her injury. She scored 19 points and grabbed a game-high eight rebounds.
Adily Martucci and Jen Fay each scored 12 points for Quinnipiac.