The South Carolina women joined the men in the Final Four, their second appearance in three years. South Carolina defeated Florida State 71-64 behind 23 points from Kaela Davis.
South Carolina built a 16-point third quarter lead, but had to hold off a fourth quarter rally by Florida State. With All-American A'ja Wilson limited to 21 minutes by foul trouble, South Carolina's role players had to step up.
"Since we've gone to a smaller lineup, it's created more scoring opportunities for Kaela, more driving lanes for her to get to the basket and more opportunity for her to pull up," Dawn Staley said. "She's seeing it and she's hitting those holes like a running back."
First, it was Davis. She scored eight points in the third quarter after Wilson played just 22 seconds before sitting with her third foul. But the Gamecocks' small lineup, featuring Doniyah Cliney at center, could not sustain the early momentum in building the 16-point lead. A tough floater by Davis was the Gamecocks' only basket over the final five minutes of the quarter, and the Seminoles closed the gap to 10.
Wilson returned to the game in the fourth quarter, but South Carolina struggled to find a flow offensively. Wilson was tentative after picking up her fourth foul on a questionable offensive foul, and several shots rimmed out. Meanwhile, Florida State continued to chip away at the lead.
Leticia Romero scored seven points during the comeback, and Florida State crashed the offensive glass. Florida State finished the game with 18 offensive rebounds for 21 points, and a putback by Ivey Slaughter and jumper by Romero drew Florida State within 65-60. Brittany Brown stole a pass near midcourt and went all the way for a layup to draw within one possession.
Neither team scored on its next possession. Then, Allisha Gray missed a three-pointer late in the shot clock, but Tyasha Harris swooped in for the offensive rebound, just South Carolina's second of the game. South Carolina reset its offense, and with the shot clock winding down, Davis hit a tough runner for her only basket of the fourth quarter. Trying to respond, Romero missed a jumper in the lane and Harris, who nearly blocked the shot, got the rebound.
A putback by Chatrice White narrowed the gap to 68-64, but then Harris clinched the win. She was fouled, making one of the free throws. Then she stole a pass from Brown and was fouled again, making both free throws for the final margin.
Davis finished with 23 points and five rebounds, and was named the region's Most Outstanding Player. She upped her season scoring average by seven points in the tournament, picking up the scoring void left by Alaina Coates' injury and Wilson's foul trouble. She also scored key baskets in the narrow wins over Florida State and Arizona State.
"It's just being aggressive," Davis said. "I think my main point was just to come in and be aggressive."
While Davis' impact was not unexpected, Harris' performance came from nowhere. She has been steady all season, and had a knack for making key baskets, but she scored in double figures just four times all season, with a career-high of 13 against Kentucky in the regular season finale. She had scored nine points total in the first three games of the NCAA Tournament.
Against Florida State, Harris hit a three-pointer at the end of the first quarter, and found her confidence. She finished with 16 points and six rebounds, both career-highs. She scored six points in the fourth quarter and grabbed the two key rebounds before the game-clinching steal.
Wilson finished with 16 points, four rebounds, and four blocks. She was dominant in the first half, before fouls derailed her game. She had 11 points, four rebounds, and two blocks in the first half as the Seminoles had no answer for her. Gray finished with 11 points, and Cliney, who was overmatched in the post, still grabbed seven rebounds, a team-high.
Florida State started the game shooting 1-7 and never recovered. South Carolina shot 58 percent for the game, while Florida State was just 37 percent. Romero finished with 16 points for Florida State, but shot just 6-23. White added 15 points, and was the only player who made more than half her shots.
"We just didn't hit shots," Florida State coach Sue Semrau said. "That was the big bottom line."
South Carolina advances to play Stanford in the Final Four. Connecticut and Mississippi State play in the other semifinal. This is the thirteenth time, by ten schools (Connecticut has done it four times), that a school has had its men's and women's programs in the Final Four in the same year.