After she posted a quiet game against Miami in the second round, South Carolina got exactly what it needed from star forward Aliyah Boston in the Sweet Sixteen on Friday night, as she dominated against North Carolina to power the Gamecocks into another day of the NCAA Tournament.
Boston, an overwhelming favorite to win national player of the year honors, showed exactly why she merits that distinction, putting up 28 points and pulling down 22 rebounds as she put the Gamecocks on her back in the crucial late stages of the game.
The fifth-seeded Tar Heels brought a fight with them to Greensboro, with the Gamecocks up just 23-22 after the first quarter, although USC buckled down to allow only eight points in the second, battling to take a 39-31 halftime lead. After two moribund outings, the South Carolina offense showed plenty of signs of life, with Destanni Henderson and Zia Cooke teaming up to make six of 11 3-pointers and posting 13 and 15 points, respectively, to key the Gamecocks until Boston asserted herself in the second half.
While South Carolina led by as much as 13, North Carolina wouldn’t go away, and whittled the lead down to four in the final minutes. But Boston scored on the other end and then added two free-throw makes to put the game out of reach and the Gamecocks in the Elite Eight.
In a rare twist, South Carolina had only 20 points in the paint compared to UNC’s 32, but the Gamecocks had 27 second-chance points as they cleaned the offensive glass thanks to workhorse efforts from Boston and Victaria Saxton (14 rebounds).
Top-seeded USC (32-2), which is in its fourth Elite Eight over its past five tournament appearances, next faces No. 10 Creighton, which upset three-seed Iowa State. Tip off is 7 p.m. Sunday on ESPN.