USC and Stanford hooked up in an instant classic Friday night in the NCAA Women’s Final Four in San Antonio. The Gamecocks got off to the quick start before the Cardinal moved ahead. The Gamecocks battled back and had a chance win on the last possession, a fastbreak off a turnover. But Brea Beal badly missed a layup off the left side, and All-American Aliyah Boston saw her stick back hit the back iron and carom away. With it went the Gamecocks hopes for a second national title in a 66-65 defeat.
The Gamecocks couldn’t have asked for a better start. They opened the game on 5-7 shooting and stormed out to a 13-4 lead. But for the rest of the half, it was a struggle to make a shot as they went 3-22. The teams headed back to the locker room with the Cardinal up 31-25. Only Zia Cooke and Aliyah Boston made shots for USC as the duo combined for 19 points.
In the opening half, Stanford had a 14-4 advantage in second chance points, ending with a 24-15 advantage. South Carolina usually dominates that category, and it ended up being the difference in the game, coming down to the final play.
In the third quarter, Cooke stole the show.
She had 11 in the third quarter alone on 4-5 shooting and a perfect 3-3 from behind the arc keeping the Gamecocks in it until they could regain shooting form. As a team they shot 71% (10-14) to get back in the game and gain some momentum. The one issue was Stanford matching them. USC trailed by three after the third quarter.
A turning point early in the fourth quarter was Boston picking up her fourth foul in a tie game, forcing head coach Dawn Staley to be careful with her star post player. While Staley was able to keep Boston from picking up her fifth foul, the Gamecocks shooting woes returned. USC shot 6-24 in the final quarter.
Stanford took the lead for good with :32 left on a jumper by Haley Jones, who finished with 24 points. That put the Cardinal up 66-65 and set the stage for the dramatic final seconds.
Cooke led USC with 25 points, two off her career best. He was 10-23 from the floor including 5-8 from three. Destanni Henderson added 18 points while Boston added 11 points to go along with 18 rebounds.
The Gamecocks season ends with a record of 26-5.