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South Carolina pulls away from Maryland for 3rd straight Final Four

GREENVILLE, SC — The script has become routine for South Carolina at this year’s NCAA Women’s Basketball Tournament. In the first half, defending champion South Carolina often looks surprisingly vulnerable, perhaps on the verge of suffering its first loss this season, poised to be on the wrong side of a monumental upset in a march that has been filled.

But in the second half, the Gamecocks wear down the teams and remind everyone why they are the top seed and a favorite to repeat as champions.

The Gamecocks went that route again on Monday night in front of a raucous crowd as they beat second-seeded Maryland 86-75 to advance to their third straight Final Four. Aliyah Boston led the Gamecocks with 22 points, 10 rebounds and 5 assists, recording her ninth double-double in an NCAA tournament.

On Friday in Dallas, South Carolina takes on No. 2 seed Iowa, led by scoring and passing phenom Caitlin Clark.

Many of South Carolina’s opponents deploy a zone defense, with their guards sagging below the free-throw line to help defend its massive forwards. Maryland, however, took a different approach.

The Terrapins used an all-court press, which at first seemed like a bad move, but quickly helped Maryland force errant passes and rush South Carolina’s offense. Maryland led by 6 after the first quarter, with South Carolina and coach Dawn Staley looking frustrated and unlike the dominant team they had been all year.

But South Carolina’s physique got the Maryland stars in trouble. Diamond Miller and strong playmaker Shyanne Sellers sat on the bench for most of the first half with two fouls. While those two were out of the game, Maryland fell back into zone defense and South Carolina felt more comfortable. Zia Cooke broke in for 9 points in the second period, and South Carolina had turned the tables to lead by 8 at halftime.

The challenge of stopping South Carolina, as Maryland learned Monday, is its depth. Most Championship teams play their stars for almost the entire game at this point in the season, mostly using spares to spell troubled starters. But South Carolina routinely swaps nearly all of its starting lineup with players nearly as good and also often have a sizeable advantage over their opponents. Take, for example, Kamilla Cardoso, a 6-foot-7 center who was the Atlantic Coast Conference rookie of the year at Syracuse before transferring to South Carolina two seasons ago and has a reserve role for the Gamecocks.

Cardoso makes sure there isn’t a lot of defensive dropout from Boston, and when they’re in the game at the same time, it’s usually a block party.

Raven Johnson, a sophomore guard who was the No. 2 player in her high school class, also comes off the bench behind guards Cooke and Kierra Fletcher.

“Anyone on our bench could start on any better team,” Boston said after the team’s Round of 16 win over UCLA. “But you know everyone has decided to come and play for Coach Staley on this program, and we’re using that to our advantage.”

That depth was the difference on Monday. Miller and Boston are expected to be the top two picks in this year’s WNBA Draft, but Miller’s supporting cast pales in comparison. Miller tried to ignite his team with aggressive training and defense, but couldn’t close the deficit. She led all scorers with 24 points, likely in her last game at Maryland.


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