The Gamecocks are heading back to the Sweet 16 for the second time in three years after taking out the Oregon St. Beavers, 78-69. After a lackluster performance in the opening round against 16th-seed Cal St. Northridge, against OSU, USC looked more like the team that earned a top seed. Carolina never quite turned the game into a blowout, but it maintained a reasonably comfortable lead after establishing a nine-point halftime difference over the final five minutes of the first half. The lead fluctuated in the 10-15 point range for most of the second half before Oregon St. closed it to nine with a high-scoring final couple of minutes in which OSU understandably played like it was gunning for the win despite the fact that the contest was over.
The statistical stars for Carolina were Tiffany Mitchell and Aleighsa Welch, who scored 20 and 21 points, respectively. Both notched double-doubles, with Welch contributing her typical high number of boards; Mitchell was able to get in on the action off the glass by reeling in several of OSU's many missed three-point attempts.
There were a couple of major storylines in the game. First of all, Carolina took 43 free throws to Oregon St.'s 18., making 34 to OSU's 9. Mitchell's ability to attack the basket and Carolina's front line's ability to get off shots around the rim--in part by muscling for offensive rebounds--account for the difference. In particular, Welch's blend of power and agility in the paint proved to be difficult for OSU's less athletic roster to handle.
Second of all, Oregon St. came into the game living offensively off of star point guard Sydney Wiese's long-range shooting ability. In the Beavers' opening win over Middle Tennessee St., OSU worked Wiese open constantly, and Wiese responded by knocking down several treys en route to a career-high in scoring. Against the Gamecocks' stingy perimeter defense, though, Wiese found it difficult to get those looks. She scored only eight points on 3-15/2-12 shooting.
Carolina's win earns it a berth in the Sweet Sixteen, where it will face North Carolina. UNC is one of the few teams to defeat USC this season, and while the Tar Heels didn't have the same quality season USC had overall, UNC is significantly more comparable to USC in talent and athleticism than either of the two teams USC has played in the tournament so far. We'll have more on the game when we get closer to the 3/30 game time.