March 31, 2017
DALLAS -- Propelled by junior forward A'ja Wilson's double-double and 13 second-half points junior guard Allisha Gray, No. 3/4 South Carolina rallied past No. 6/6 Stanford 62-53 Friday night at American Airlines Center to secure the program's first berth in the NCAA championship game. The top-seeded Gamecocks, who faced a double-digit deficit in the first half, improved to 32-4 with the historic victory in the national semifinal round. The Cardinal closed their 2016-17 campaign with a mark of 32-6 following the loss.
Friday's turning point came in the third quarter when Carolina outscored the Cardinal 21-8 during the 10-minute stretch to build a four-point cushion as the teams headed into the final break. Wilson's effort on the defensive end and the glass paced the Gamecocks, who held Stanford to just 4-of-17 shooting for the quarter. The junior standout tallied two blocks in the period to go with eight rebounds, three of which came on the offensive end. Carolina junior guard Bianca Cuevas-Moore capped her team's dominant quarter with five points and a key assist that kept momentum with the Gamecocks, who entered the period facing a nine-point deficit.
Wilson's determination down low resulted in an impressive stat line, as the junior posted totals of 13 points, 19 rebounds and three blocks. She added four assists and scored nine of her 13 points over the final 20 minutes of the game. Gray finished with 18 points on 7-of-14 shooting and fell two boards short of her own double-double after grabbing eight rebounds. Freshman guard Tyasha Harris added 10 points and delivered three free throws down the stretch to help clinch the win for Carolina, which held Stanford to 4-of-14 shooting from beyond the arc.
The backcourt again jumpstarted Carolina's offense and helped the Gamecocks jump out to a five-point lead. A straightaway 3-pointer by Harris established a 3-2 Gamecock advantage, and junior guard Kaela Davis' jumper 48 seconds later made it 5-2 before a nice pass from Wilson set up Gray for a layup that put Carolina in front 7-2 with 7:42 left in the first quarter. Stanford took advantage of a cold shooting stretch from the Gamecocks over the next few minutes, and a pair of free throws followed by a bucket inside gave the Cardinal a 10-9 lead with 2:53 to play in the period. Their lead lasted just 23 seconds, as Gray's field goal from beyond the arc put the Gamecocks back ahead 12-10. Freshman forward Mikiah Herbert Harrigan's jumper from the left side pushed the advantage to 14-10, and the teams headed to the first break with Carolina leading 14-12 following the back-and-fourth opening period. Five players registered a first-quarter field goal for the Gamecocks, who held the Cardinal to just 5-of-14 shooting over the first 10 minutes.
Stanford grabbed control in the second quarter, opening the period on a 9-0 run to build a 21-14 with 6:22 left in the first half. Carolina, which missed its first eight field goals of the quarter, cut the Cardinal lead to 25-19 with just under three minutes remaining in the period after converting a pair of baskets following offensive rebounds. Wilson collected a board and maneuvered inside before laying it in on the left block, and a put-back from Davis just over a minute later brought the Gamecocks to within six of the lead. Stanford provided the final response of the quarter, scoring four of the last five points of the half to head into the locker room with a 29-20 lead. Carolina shot just 2-of-14 for the period, while Wilson totaled eight rebounds over the first 20 minutes to go with two field goals.
Carolina's effort on the offensive glass continued to produce points when Wilson's put-back bucket cut the Gamecock deficit to 31-24 with just over two minutes gone in the third quarter. A jumper by Harris from the right side brought Carolina to within five at 31-26, and a pair of free throws from Davis and Gray made it 33-30 midway through the quarter. Momentum stayed with the Gamecocks when Gray slashed to the basket and converted from the left block to make it a one-point game before Wilson found Cuevas-Moore in the left corner for a 3-pointer that put Carolina ahead 35-33 with 3:31 left in the quarter. Cuevas-Moore remained a factor on the offensive end over the next few minutes, starting on the Gamecocks' next trip down the floor when she delivered a great pass on the break to a wide-open Doniyah Cliney that set the guard up for a layup that made it 37-33. A runner from Cuevas-Moore a minute later capped a 13-0 run that gave the Gamecocks a 39-33 lead late in the quarter. Carolina took a 41-37 advantage into the final break after outscoring the Cardinal 21-8 for the quarter. Stanford missed 17 of its 21 shots in the period, and Wilson collected many of the misses after grabbing five third-quarter defensive rebounds.
The teams traded baskets over the first 90 seconds of the fourth period before a free throw from Cardinal guard Brittany McPhee brought Stanford to within three at 43-40 with 6:49 to play. Wilson and Gray delivered for the Gamecocks in a big way, combining to score the team's next 11 points to keep Carolina in control with a four-point advantage with 1:34 left. Another offensive board and basket from Wilson stretched the lead to five, and the forward found Gray for a jumper that made it 47-40 with less than six minutes to go. Wilson did a great job to get inside for another layup that pushed the lead to 50-43 before Gray connected on the basket of the night, converting an acrobatic layup from the left side that led to a three-point play for the guard. Her ensuing free throw established a 53-45 cushion, and Wilson's free throw three minutes later answered a pair of Stanford field goals and put the Gamecocks in front 54-50 with just over 90 seconds to go.
Harris banked home a jumper from the top of the free throw line on Carolina's next possession before Gray produced one more clutch play down the stretch. The junior collected a defensive rebound and showed great awareness to deliver a long pass down court to Cuevas-Moore, who connected on the uncontested layup that extended the lead to 58-50 with 42 seconds left. Harris also displayed poise in the final minute, as the freshman went 3-of-4 from the line to keep the Gamecocks comfortably in front at 61-53 with less than 20 seconds to play.
Both teams shot under 40.0 percent from the floor, while the Gamecocks held a slight 43-41 advantage on the boards. Carolina kept Stanford off the line, as the Cardinal attempted just five free throw attempts on the night. The Gamecocks finished the contest 13-of-21 from the charity stripe and netted 19 second-chance points.
Head Coach Dawn Staley
The Gamecocks turned a nine-point halftime deficit into a four-point lead through 30 minutes after a dominant defensive showing in the third quarter. Carolina held Stanford to just eight points and four field goals in the period.
The Gamecocks registered several key baskets after crashing the glass on the offensive end throughout the night. Carolina's 20 offensive boards Friday matched its season high.
The Gamecocks will face either No. 1 seed UConn or second-seeded Mississippi State in the NCAA championship game on Sun., Apr. 2. Tipoff from American Airlines Center is set for 6 p.m. ET, and the contest will air on ESPN.
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