DALLAS— The No.1 seed South Carolina Gamecocks were able to overcome a nine-point halftime deficit and rally behind a 13-0 third quarter run and holding Stanford to 24 second half points to clinch their spot in the national championship game Sunday night. Junior Allisha Gray led all scorers with 18 points as AP first team selection A’ja Wilson had 13 points and tied her career high with 19 rebounds in the 62-53 victory.
Despite having more assists, steals and fewer turnovers, the Cardinal offense went stone cold in the second half, shooting 30.3 percent from the floor. South Carolina was able to reverse their first half struggles and shoot 46.9 percent from the field en route to their comeback win.
In the first quarter, both teams played each other even with both shooting 35 percent. At the end of the first the Gamecocks led 14-12 even with Gray shooting 2-6 from the field and Wilson being held to just two points. Stanford was able to pack the paint and force South Carolina to take outside jump shots, as the Gamecocks were able to force the Cardinal into tough shots and only five made field goals.
Senior sharpshooter Karlee Samuelson was 0-2 from deep in the first as she finished with zero points, zero assists and zero rebounds in 25 minutes of play. With 4:38 to go in the second, she appeared to step on Bianca Cuevas-Moore’s foot and roll her ankle, causing her to become a decoy on the court and not be an offensive threat.
“For us, with Karlie (Samuelson) not being 100 percent, that really hurt us a lot,” Stanford head coach Tara VanDerveer said. “We really got out of sync and never really got it going in the third quarter. That was disappointing for us.”
Even with Samuelson being hobbled in the second, Stanford played their best basketball, holding South Carolina to six points in the second. Behind a 9-0 run, Stanford was able to go into halftime with a nine point lead as senior Erica McCall led all players with 10 points on 5-9 shooting.
McCall became a non-factor in the second as she was finished the day with 14 points on 7-19 shooting, including 0-3 from behind the arc. She was able to grab 14 rebounds on the day, including nine on the offensive end but South Carolina was able to shut her and the Cardinal down for long stretches ending the game.
In the third quarter, South Carolina put the clamps on the Cardinal offense and held them to eight points. Across the final two quarters Gray scored 13 points on 5-6 shooting, while Wilson hauled in 13 boards, including six on the offensive end.
The Cardinal finished the third going 1-15 from the field and was scoreless for a stretch of six plus minutes in the quarter. With 4:12 to go Stanford relinquish the lead and would never get it back as Gray and Wilson proved too much to handle.
“Yeah, I mean, she's an All-American,” VanDerveer said about Wilson. “She's a terrific player. She blocks shots or she changes them. What did she end up with? 19 rebounds? She's on that glass.”
In the fourth, the Gamecocks were able to hold Stanford at an arm’s reach, scoring crucial buckets and hitting free throws to close out the game. Freshman Tyasha Harris hit the dagger with 56 seconds to go, giving South Carolina a six point lead and ending all hope of a miracle comeback.
South Carolina was able to push all the right buttons in the second half, despite junior Kaela Davis scoring only six points on 2-15 shooting from the field. They held McCall in check in the second half and held junior Brittany McPhee to eight points on 3-13 shooting as the second half defense forced six fourth quarter turnovers to win the game.
“Oh, I can't even put into words the feeling that I have right now” Wilson said about getting to the championship game. “This is a very special team. I feel like we've earned this spot that we're in now. We know that we're not done. But just the feeling of just making history at your school is just something really special.
The Gamecocks will now await the winner of the second semifinal between No. 1 UConn and No. 2 Mississippi State. The championship game will top off 6 p.m. eastern time on April 2.
Matt Kren is a staff writer for The Daily Campus, covering women’s basketball. He can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.