In the unfriendly confines of Purdue's home court, the Lady Gamecocks advanced to the Sweet 16 with a victory this evening over the Boilermakers, winners of the Big 10 Tournament. Markeisha Grant continued her stellar play in the tournament with 21 points, while Iesia Walker added 17. Purdue star Brittany Rayburn scored 13 in her final game.
The Gamecocks' defense, as usual, put the team in position to win this game. The Gamecocks forced 20 turnovers, including 11 steals. They continually disrupted Purdue's ball movement and kept the Boilermakers from running their offense. Purdue likes outside shots, and while its 40% from beyond the arc looks nice, its 10 attempts--by contrast, Purdue made 11 and shot 22 in its first round game--reflects the fact that we didn't let Purdue's shooters get the kinds of looks they like.
What has really been impressive about our tournament performance, though, is our offensive play. The Gamecocks have been a bit uneven on offense this year, oftentimes relying more on points off turnovers than stellar shooting and half-court play to outscore their opponents. Turnovers, obviously, continued to be our friend against Purdue, but we also shot the ball better (Grant's 3-7 from beyond the arc was a big factor) and were generally more fluid in our ball movement. This improved offensive play allowed us to take what would have otherwise been a close game and turn it into a relatively convincing win.
The Gamecocks' reward for their victory? A game against regional top-seed Stanford, one of the favorites to win the national title. Needless to say, the Gamecocks will have their work cut out for them. I'll have a proper preview prior to the game, but I think Stanford's stellar front court is going to provide a challenge the Gamecocks' defense may not be able to turn back as effectively as it has the last two opponents. That said, if we can force another 20 turnovers and can keep shooting the ball well, we can beat anybody. One thing is for sure: This will be the biggest women's basketball game we've been a part of in quite some time. Just getting this far, with a chance to knock off one of the sport's big-time programs for a spot in the Elite Eight, demonstrates how much this team has accomplished this year.