South Carolina and Stanford Round Out Women’s Final Four
The Gamecocks got an early celebration as Texas was held scoreless in the fourth quarter. Stanford mounted a comeback over Louisville.,
SAN ANTONIO — Sixth-seeded Texas went cold at the worst possible moment, failing to muster a credible threat to South Carolina. Louisville had a clear shot at Stanford, but the top-seeded Cardinal came back — and then some — in the second half.
Both Stanford and South Carolina, No. 1 seeds in an N.C.A.A. women’s basketball tournament field that has commanded a fair share of difficulty for teams at the top, moved on to the Final Four on Tuesday night to join another No. 1 seed, UConn, and third-seeded Arizona.
Stanford claimed the last spot in the national semifinals with a 78-63 defeat of Louisville, after trailing by 12 points at halftime. South Carolina sailed in the round of 8 with a 62-34 win over Texas.
In the ultimate sign of futility after a run that included upsets of U.C.L.A. and Maryland, Texas scored 0 points in the fourth quarter — missing all 15 of its shots. The Longhorns shot 23 percent for the game.
The Gamecocks dominated from the start to earn their third trip to the national semifinals and their first since winning a national title in 2017.
“When we got knocked down four times this season, they got back up stronger,” South Carolina Coach Dawn Staley said in a television interview after the game, referring to the Gamecocks’ four losses this year. “And that’s the mark of a true champion.”
Louisville’s Dana Evans put up 10 of her 24 points in the first quarter while the Cardinals kept Stanford below 28 percent shooting in the first half.
But a 13-0 run toward the end of the third quarter put the Cardinal ahead as they started containing Louisville’s top scorers. Then, Stanford ran away over the last 10 minutes. Lexie Hull had 21 points and 9 rebounds while Haley Jones had 10 points and 10 rebounds.
Stanford’s Ashten Prechtel, who finished with 16 points and made all six of her shots, opened the fourth quarter with a 3-pointer that bolstered Stanford’s confidence and sparked a decisive run.
“It was tough to not play in the first half — and I was nervous,” Prechtel said about Louisville’s lead. At halftime, Prechtel said Stanford Coach Tara VanDerveer “ripped into us a little bit” and told them they had to “compete in the second half” if they wanted to stay in San Antonio.
“Coming out of halftime, there was urgency to how we were going to play,” Prechtel said.
According to the N.C.A.A., two Black women will be head coaches in the Final Four for the first time: Staley for South Carolina and Adia Barnes of No. 3 Arizona, which will face UConn in the national semifinal.
“There are so many Black coaches out there that don’t get the opportunity, because when A.D.’s don’t see it, they don’t see it,” Staley told reporters after the game, referring to athletic directors. “They’re going to see it in the Final Four on Friday night.”
“Representation matters, and its nothing against anyone else who lost to us,” she added. “I hope that the decision-makers — because there are a lot of jobs out there — that you give Black women the opportunity.”
Staley’s team weaved through Texas’ notorious defense with ease, with Zia Cooke and Destanni Henderson repeatedly feeding Victaria Saxton in the paint. Cooke led with 16 points, and added 6 rebounds and 3 assists. Henderson had 12 points and 7 assists, while Saxton had 12 points and 8 rebounds.
The Longhorns got into gear briefly in the third quarter as more and more Texas fans trickled into the audience after work hours, bolstering the cheers and outcries that bounced around the cavernous stadium walls at the Alamodome.
Audrey Warren, who led Texas with 13 points, scored two of her — and the team’s — three 3-pointers in the third quarter. And at one point, Texas came within 10 points of South Carolina on a second-chance layup by Lauren Ebo.
But that was as close as the Longhorns got after South Carolina took an early 15-point lead and scored 14 points off Texas turnovers. Looking exhausted and downtrodden after Warren scored their final points in the third quarter, the Longhorns let South Carolina celebrate early with a big run while they continued to watch their shots bounce off the rim, not adding a single point to their score in the final 10-minute period.
“It was hard for me to not get too excited,” South Carolina’s Cooke said of the last quarter in a call with reporters after the game.
It was the first scoreless period of the women’s tournament since the N.C.A.A. switched from halves to quarters in 2016, according to the organization’s records. (South Dakota had previously set a record for the lowest-scoring quarter in a tournament game with a 1-point period against Oregon in the first round.)
“I thought it was a pretty good defensive performance, but I also think that Texas was a little tired,” Staley said.
The Longhorns and Gamecocks had not previously met since 2016, however Texas Coach Vic Schaefer and Staley have — including for the national title in Dallas in 2017, when Schaefer was coaching Mississippi State. The Bulldogs ended UConn’s 111-game winning streak to get there, but South Carolina came out on top for its only championship. Staley beat Schaefer in 12 out of their 15 meetings while they were Southeastern Conference foes.
“I always look forward to playing Vic because of what he puts into his scouting reports, his game-planning and his scheming,” Staley told reporters on Monday.
Even without the pandemic, Texas went through significant transition this summer when Schaefer took over for longtime coach Karen Aston. Players recalled struggling to get to know each other and their coaches during video calls and limited practices, and said that has helped them bond and peak at the right time within the controlled environment set up for the tournament.
It was a relatively quiet night for South Carolina sophomore forward Aliyah Boston and Texas junior center Charli Collier, who had both averaged double-doubles this tournament and went head-to-head on Tuesday night. Boston, who is up for a few player-of-the-year awards, had 10 points and 8 rebounds; Collier, who is projected to be the No. 1 pick in the W.N.B.A. draft, was held to 4 points after missing 8 of 10 shots.
Boston also had a slow start during South Carolina’s round-of-16 game against Georgia Tech but picked it up in the second half where she scored all 9 points. But in that game her teammates stepped in, led by Cooke on the perimeter with 17 points in a 76-65 win.
With its powerhouse defense, Texas was also able to hold No. 2 seed Maryland to its lowest score of the season in a 64-61 upset to advance to the round of 8 by limiting the Terrapins’ possessions and forcing 11 turnovers.
The fans helped too, Schaefer said. The university, located in Austin, is about 80 miles from San Antonio, the hub for the tournament where most of its games have been staged. “I thought our fans provided a great environment for both teams,” Schaefer said Monday.
South Carolina will play top-seeded Stanford. On Monday night, No. 1-seeded UConn and No. 3-seeded Arizona squeezed past their opponents to set up the other semifinal. Both semifinals are scheduled for Friday night.