South Carolina beats Louisville, 72-59, in Final Four opener

The South Carolina Gamecocks beat the Louisville Cardinals 72-59 in the first game of the Final Four, stifling their late-game push to advance to the National Championship game.

South Carolina got out to a hot start and led 17-10 at the end of the first quarter. Louisville fought back in the second to take the lead, but the Gamecocks did not panic, and held them off to take the lead into halftime. Then, in the third quarter, South Carolina came out blazing and put the game away for good. The Cardinals tried to hang around, but the game was never in doubt.

The Naismith Player of the Year, Aliyah Boston, had a dominant game, scoring 23 points on 8-12 shooting from the field, grabbing 18 rebounds, and dishing out four assists. However, Louisville had no answer for Boston when their opponents played a zone defense, as guards Destanni Henderson and Zia Cooke made them pay from the outside. Henderson scored 11 points, and Cooke added 10 points. Brea Beal pitched in with 12 points, and Victaria Saxton added 10 points.

Beal did a great job defending Louisville’s leading scorer, Haley Van Lith, holding her to nine points on 4-11 shooting from the field. In addition, Beal blocked two of Van Lith’s shots in the first quarter. Beal said defense is something you cannot turn on and off.

“I think it’s just a mentality to have every single game,” she said. “It’s a talent I’ve grown and added to as a freshman. Especially now you just have to lock in and know what your job is to do offensively and defensively.”

Emily Engstler lead Louisville with 18 points and nine rebounds before fouling out in the fourth quarter. Kianna Smith and Olivia Cochran each added 14 points.

South Carolina took away Louisville’s three-point shot, where they normally excel, and held them to 1-8 shooting. Gamecocks head coach Dawn Staley said her squad deployed a variety of strategies to corral the win.

“We’re a team that we really don’t turn you over – we just stay connected,” Staley said. “They do a great job of communicating. We just like to be disruptive, take the first option away, the second option away and then have you played with a short shot clock.”

“And then that is – not a whole lot of teams are super-efficient in low shot clock situations, so we try to put them in that, and then we rebound the basketball.”

South Carolina will take on UConn in the National Championship game Sunday at 7 p.m. CT.