Through the first three games of the NCAA Tournament, the one number one seeded South Carolina Gamecocks ( 26-4, 14-2 SEC) lived up to that high seed by winning all their games by double digits. Meanwhile, the Texas Longhorns (21-10, 11-7 Big 12) were on an upset roll, knocking off No. 11 Bradley, No. 3 UCLA, and most recently No. 2 seed Maryland entered the Sweet 16 on a 15-game winning streak.
The Gamecocks were playing in their fifth Elite 8 and fourth in the past six seasons. Texas was making its 10th appearance in the Elite 8. The Longhorns had won two out of three meetings in the overall series between the teams but South Carolina victorious in the 2017 National Championship Game.
South Carolina wasted no time opening up a sizable double-digit lead in the first quarter. Going on a 14-2 run that lasted almost seven minutes as the Gamecocks led 16-4. By the time the quarter ended, South Carolina was up 18-7, shooting a sizzling 57 percent from the field while grabbing 11 rebounds. Victoria Saxton tallied 8 of her 12 points on the night.
After shooting a miserable 18 percent in the first quarter while knocking down 3 of 16 shots, the Longhorns offense discovered a rhythm hitting 4 of 6, leading to a 6-0 run that cut the gap to 22-15 with less than six minutes remaining. However, Gamecocks sophomore guard Zia Cooke caught fire, pouring in 11 points as South Carolina erupted for an 11-2 run. By the time both teams hit their respective locker rooms for halftime, the Gamecocks held a commanding 37-22 advantage.
In the third quarter, Texas narrowed the gap to 41-31 at the four-minute mark. South Carolina junior guard Destanni Henderson put a halt to the spurt scoring five points in the row. A balanced scoring performance with four players netting between 9 and 13 points. The Gamecocks boosted the margin to 52-34 at the end of the period.
“We just played with our guard up; we knew that Texas was a good defensive team and can’t take any team lightly,” Zia Cooke explained. “We just made sure that we put our foot on the gas.” I just want to say it starts with Coach (Dawn Staley); she’s resilient, so we’re reflecting on the way she teaches us to play out there on the court, and we don’t back down from anyone, and we’ve been through a lot, but we get back up, so that’s our main goal anytime.”
With the Longhorns scoreless since the 2:28 juncture in the third continued into the fourth quarter. Texas missed their last 17 field goals as South Carolina pitched a fourth-quarter shutout for the dominating 62-34 victory. Zia Cooke totaled 16 points, Destanni Henderson contributing 12 points, and Aaliyah Boston and Laeticia Henderson chipped in 10 points apiece.
South Carolina Head Coach Dawn Staley on the win, “We’re going to enjoy this because you never know when things will be taken away from you.” “I’m glad our players fought they did to be in this position.” I didn’t realize they didn’t score in the fourth quarter; I looked at the stat sheet after the celebration and thought it was a pretty good defensive performance. They just wanted to go to the Final Four, win the national championship, and they’re going to give it all on both sides of the ball.”