The Gamecocks had a great season, but it ended tonight in the Sweet 16 with a tough loss to the rival North Carolina Tar Heels. The Tar Heels controlled the game for most of the first half. The Gamecocks made a comeback in the second half and kept the game within a score or two for most of the final ten minutes until UNC pulled away late. The Gamecocks never tied the game or took a lead, though; UNC deserves credit for a convincing, impressive win.
The top statistical performers for each team were the Gamecocks' Alaina Coates and the Heels' Diamond DeShields. DeShields led UNC with 19 points, while Coates led all scorers with 22 points to go along with her 11 rebounds. When the Gamecocks needed to make plays in the second half, they looked to Coates, who dominated on the block for portions of the game. With UNC center Stephanie Muvunga in foul trouble in the second half, the Heels simply didn't have anyone who was up to the task of covering Coates.
Unfortunately, outside of Coates, the Gamecocks struggled to score. USC's guards, in particular, struggled against UNC's tough perimeter defense. Tiffany Mitchell went 4-14 and caved to the defensive pressure a few times by forcing unwise shots. Khadijah Sessions went 0-8 and looked similarly out of control at times.
Still, USC had opportunities to win this game. Two plays late in the second half jump out at me as costly for the Gamecocks. First of all, with USC down by one, Sessions committed a charging foul while making a layup on a drive into the lane. Second of all, only a couple of minutes later with Carolina down by two, Aleighsa Welch missed the front end of a one-and-one.
USC may have simply met its match, though. Although young, UNC is one of the most talented teams in the country. Obviously, South Carolina is right there, too, but at this point in the season, very slight differences between the best teams become apparent, and it makes a difference for UNC to have a player like DeShields on its roster. Particularly if it signs A'ja Wilson, the recruiting class Dawn Staley has in the works may be what USC needs to take the next step to being able to make it to the Final Four.
As for 2013-2014, USC had a great season this year. The Gamecocks won a lot of big games and took home the SEC regular season title. Tonight was disappointing, but this team has a lot to be proud of. I'm excited to see what the future holds.