The South Carolina Gamecocks saw their NCAA Tournament run come to a heartbreaking and devastating end in the Final Four on Friday night, falling 66-65 to fellow No. 1 seed Stanford in the final seconds.
The Gamecocks and the Cardinal battled to a draw for much of the game, with neither team gaining comfortable separation despite Stanford’s 5-point lead at the half. Foul trouble hampered South Carolina star Aliyah Boston in the second half, as the Gamecocks had to liberally sub her in and out after she picked up her fourth personal in the third quarter. Boston’s absence hurt South Carolina offensively, but especially defensively, as she wasn’t able to provide key rebounds and rim protection.
Zia Cooke and Destanni Henderson, however, stepped up to keep the Gamecocks in it. Cooke led all scorers with 25 points, putting USC on her back while it scuffled during Boston’s time on the bench, and Henderson (18 points) got hot at the perfect time, hitting multiple critical 3-pointers in the late stages — including one that put the Gamecocks up 65-64.
However, Stanford answered on the ensuing possession, collecting an offensive rebound and sinking a jumper to put the Cardinal up 66-65. After the Gamecocks came up empty, Boston stole Stanford’s inbounds pass with the seconds winding down in a display of her game-changing talent. But the Gamecocks missed two potential shots at a game-winner, with Boston bursting into tears when her putback was just a touch too strong and bounced off the back iron as time expired.
The Gamecocks finish an incredibly impressive season at 26-5. It hurts a little too much to go into more right now, but it was another memorable campaign from Dawn Staley’s squad. Here’s to doing it all again next season — except without the heartbreak.