The South Carolina women went to Tampa looking to make history. They came up a bit short, but it wasn't for lack of talent, or effort. Rather, an excellent Notre Dame team went toe-to-toe with the Gamecocks, and the Irish caught one extra break to grab a 66-65 win and eliminate South Carolina from the NCAA Tournament.
The Irish started out looking like the more relaxed team, quickly putting the Gamecocks in an 15-3 hole just five minutes into the contest. From there, the Lady Gamecocks stabilized, with Bianca Cuevas scoring four quick points to bring the lead back within single digits. The Gamecocks closed the gap to 25-22, but could never overtake the Irish, and entered the break down 32-28.
In the second half, it was much of the same. Notre Dame began the second half opening up a lead, but the Gamecocks answered with an 8-0 run to once again come close. However, they still were unable to overtake the Irish, as the women from Indiana entered the closing stages with a 51-46 lead.
From there, Notre Dame started to pull away once more. The Irish started to pull away in the middle of the second half, building out a 62-50 lead on the strength of their stars - Loyd, Brianna Turner, and Taya Reimer. While A'ja Wilson and Alaina Coates continued to keep the Gamecocks around, the Irish did a good job of bottling up Bianca Cuevas, Tiffany Mitchell, and Aleighsa Welch, which helped them build out their ten-point lead.
The Gamecocks didn't go away quietly. Mitchell brought Carolina back within single digits, and then added a long two-point jumper to cut the lead to six with five minutes to go. After Welch missed two free throws, Tiffany Mitchell hit a seemingly impossible shot to cut the lead to four points. The Gamecocks held Notre Dame on defense, and Olivia Gaines found her way to the free-throw line to cut the lead to just three with 3:30 to go.
After another Irish miss, Carolina drew an off-the-ball foul on Notre Dame's star Turner, who fouled out. In the double bonus, Coates went to the line and missed both, and a Gamecock turnover gave the Irish another chance to add to their lead. Instead, they missed and Wilson converted close to the basket, bringing Carolina within one point with less than two minutes to go.
At 64-63, the Gamecocks drew an offensive foul on Lindsay Allen, and the second member of the Fighting Irish found herself disqualified with five fouls. And with 1:10 to go, Wilson grabbed a miss and followed it with a lay-up, giving the Gamecocks their first lead of the night.
Carolina missed their chance to extend the lead, and Notre Dame's Madison Cable hit a two with 20 seconds to go to give the Irish the lead again, their first points in over seven minutes. South Carolina's Mitchell dribbled down the clock, but after a deflection by the Irish, she was left to heave a desperation three-pointer that never had a chance. South Carolina lost 66-65.
The loss means the Gamecocks ended with a final record of 34-3, with two of their three losses coming to teams in the Final Four. Dawn Staley and her team have completely changed the program, and while it was disappointing to come up one point short, it's impossible to look at this season as anything other than an unqualified success. While Carolina will rue missing an opportunity to play one more game, they showed they belonged among the elite programs in womens' basketball.