South Carolina basketball has made it to their ninth straight Sweet Sixteen. After two straight 30+ point victories with home-court advantage in the NCAA Tournament’s first two rounds, the Gamecocks were fortunate to have the next best thing. The Sweet 16 and Elite 8 were to be played in Greenville, South Carolina, just over an hour northwest of Columbia.
When the Gamecocks and the UCLA Bruins played early in the 2022-2023 season, the Gamecocks came out flat. UCLA led at the half, and the score was tied after three quarters. Charisma Osborne and Kiki Rice had their way against the South Carolina defense. It was one of only a handful of games that truly tested Dawn Staley’s squad on their undefeated run.
There would be no such problems in the Sweet Sixteen. Unlike the first two games of the NCAA Tournament, the Gamecocks came out of the locker room defending aggressively and rebounding the ball well. Carolina demonstrated why they are the best defensive team in the nation as they held UCLA to just 8 points on 3-12 shooting in the first quarter.
Aliyah Boston (5) and Brea Beal (5) led an impressive rebounding effort that saw the pseudo-home team put together a +7 margin in the game’s first ten minutes. The two frontcourt seniors combined for 9 points and 10 rebounds in the first period, while UCLA’s whole team had just 8 points and 9 rebounds. Despite shooting a horrendous 1-7 on threes, the Gamecocks took a 14-8 lead into the second.
The second quarter saw both teams struggle offensively. The Gamecocks first two possession resulted in turnovers, and the Bruins had two different turnover streaks of their own in the quarter. Neither team shot the ball well as the second quarter was both squads’ lowest-scoring quarters of the season (7 points for UCLA and 11 points for the Gamecocks).
While the offenses were anemic, South Carolina’s defense was smothering. Led by Boston, Beal, and Kamilla Cardoso the Gamecock defense held UCLA to just three made shots for the second straight period. Boston and Beal outrebounded the Bruins by themselves and were just one point away from tying UCLA in scoring as their team took a 25-15 lead into the locker room.
The game became more physical in the second half. Very few fouls were called in the first half, but the whistle echoed throughout Bon Secours Wellness Arena early and often in the third quarter. As the physical play continued, the Gamecock lead swelled. The bigger Gamecocks began dominating in the paint as they had doubled the Bruins’ points down low by the end of the third period (22-10).
UCLA finally cracked double digits for a quarter as Charisma Osborne led the offense to a 15-point period. Unfortunately for Cori Close and her team, South Carolina had their best scoring quarter of the game, as well. The Gamecocks scored 25 to extend their lead to 50-30. Boston, Cardoso, and Bree Hall led the scoring effort.
As has become the norm, the fourth quarter was a cruising effort. 2:47 ticked away before a point was scored, and 3:30 went by before a field goal was made for either team. With the game no longer in doubt, Dawn Staley pulled all the rotational rotation players from the contest, and the subs salted the clock away.
Aliyah Boston led the game’s rebounders with 14 boards as her team comfortably won the battle on the glass. Four Gamecocks (Boston, Brea Beal, Kamilla Cardoso, and Bree Hall) had at least 8 points, and Charisma Osborne (14) was the only Bruin with more than 6 as the Bruins shot a putrid 29.4% from the field because of the defensive dominance of the Lady Gamecocks. Despite a subpar shooting day, South Carolina passed the ball well. Led by Kierra Fletcher’s 5 dimes, Gamecock scorers were assisted on 19 of their 24 made shots.
South Carolina almost matched their own record for the fewest points allowed in a Sweet 16 or beyond. In 2021’s Elite Eight, the Gamecocks beat Texas 62-34, and the Longhorns scoring output was the lowest ever seen that late in the NCAA Tournament. With three minutes remaining, UCLA had 34 points, but 9 garbage time points pulled the Bruins away from the dubious record.
A sixteen-point difference was the final margin, but the contest wasn’t that competitive. After the first minutes of the game, Carolina was in control. UCLA could get nothing going against the size and length of the Gamecock frontcourt, and without garbage time, this one would have ended as a blowout. A 41st-straight victory brings Dawn Staley’s team one step closer to history.
The Gamecocks are on to the Elite Eight. A rematch with 2-seed Maryland awaits as the Terrapins took down Notre Dame last night. The game will be played on Monday, but game time and television details have not yet been announced.