BON SECOURS WELLNESS ARENA: The Gamecocks and the Bruins got drawn into an intense, physically draining, toe-to-toe slugfest in their Sweet 16 matchup. And South Carolina looked right at home, riding its rebounding, defense and depth to a 59-43 victory over UCLA in Greenville, Saturday.
Neither team could find a rhythm early, but the Gamecocks took control with superior rebounding and defensive pressure. Two players managed to rise above the fray and turn the tide in USC’s favor.
As the game was taking on a frantic feel in the early going, veteran guard Brea Beal operated on a different wavelength, playing with poise despite the turbulence. Beal scored all 10 of her points in the first half as the Gamecocks built a 25-15 lead. Beal also grabbed seven rebounds, dished out four assists and played brilliant defensively, helping the Gamecocks limit the Bruins to 29% shooting.
Head coach Dawn Staley wasn’t surprised that Beal was able to stay under control and steady the team. “Brea is our utility player,” Staley said, “giving us what we need at any given time …. She’s low maintenance and high performing.”
Forward Kamilla Cardoso (10 points) made her mark in the second half. After a slow start, Cardoso settled in, focusing on clean catches, keeping the ball high and scoring through contact. Her teammates responded by feeding her time and again in the post. Late in the third quarter, Cardoso scored eight points from the block in a four-minute span, effectively putting the game away before the fourth quarter began. Cardoso also added to the team’s postseason highlight reel with a chase-down block. Staley said, “No one likes to get scored on. Thankfully, we have Kamilla on our team doing things like that.”
As expected, UCLA packed the lane in an attempt to limit the effectiveness of Aliyah Boston (8 points, 14 rebounds) and Victaria Saxton (4 points, 3 rebounds). The strategy yielded dividends as the Gamecocks were held to their second-lowest scoring output of the season. But USC’s defense was even better, holding the Bruins to their lowest point total in nine years.
South Carolina’s depth was on full display, as well. Ten different Gamecocks scored with the bench producing nearly half (28) of the team’s points.
Top-seeded South Carolina (35-0) will next square off against second-seeded Maryland with a trip to the Final Four on the line. Tipoff from Greenville is set for 7 p.m., Monday.