Lady Gamecocks rally past Lady Tar Heels into Elite 8

uscwhoops-sweet16Junior Tiffany Mitchell hit a layup with 3.5 seconds on the clock, capping a furious final 90 seconds to deliver a 67-65 win over No. 15/12 North Carolina and send No. 3/4 South Carolina to the Elite Eight for just the second time in program history. Contributions came from a variety of sources, but three were in the deciding moment.

Senior Olivia Gaines and sophomore Alaina Coates hit big shots to put the Gamecocks in a position in win, and two-time SEC Player of Year Mitchell finished off the rally with a hard baseline drive. Mitchell and Coates led the Gamecocks with a game-high 18 points each. Coates added 10 rebounds to post her 12th double-double of the year.

The Tar Heels got off to a quick start, jumping out to an 8-0 lead by pushing the tempo and going inside to Stephanie Mavunga in the first two minutes. Asia Dozier hit an open look at the 17:46 mark for the Gamecocks’ first points of the night. Mavunga answered with her third basket, but then North Carolina missed its next 10 shots over a six-minute stretch as South Carolina picked up the intensity on the defensive end.

Allisha Gray drove to the basket for layups on back-to-back Tar Heel possessions to put them on top 15-7 with 10:52 to play, breaking the six-minute drought. After Gray’s scores, South Carolina held North Carolina without a basket for another five-minute stretch as the Gamecocks continued to lock down on the defensive end. The Gamecocks pulled within three at 17-14 during the Tar Heel drought.

With 4:36 remaining in the half, Tina Roy tied the contest at 19-19 with a long-range 3-pointer, and the Gamecocks took their first lead on the following possession. Coates tipped a free throw miss out to Aleighsa Welch, and after resetting the offense, Mitchell hit Coates for a layup to deliver the 21-19 advantage.

North Carolina’s Latifah Coleman swished a long 3 just before the buzzer to draw within 29-25 at the break. After making four of its first six shots, South Carolina allowed the Tar Heels to hit just six of its last 26 first-half attempts.

Mitchell heated up at the start of the second half, draining a pair of jumpers on the Gamecocks’ first two possessions, but North Carolina got back into the contest thanks to a few Gamecock turnovers.

The Tar Heels briefly took the lead at 38-37 six minutes into the period, then South Carolina went on an 8-1 run over the next minutes ignited by Coates. First, the center drew a foul and hit both free throws, then, she got position in the paint for a bucket, and cleaned up her own miss on her third-straight touch. On the defensive end, Coates teamed with A’ja Wilson to force a turnover that sent Mitchell the other way for a quick layup. The play prompted a North Carolina timeout after the run put the Gamecocks back on top 45-39 with 12 minutes to play.

After a Roy 3 put the Gamecocks on up 55-52 with 5:43 to go, North Carolina scored seven unanswered points in just over a minute to take its largest lead of the second half. Roy stopped the bleeding with her fourth 3 of the night to pull back within one with 4:10 to go.

Down by three with 1:30 left, Gaines forced a Coleman miss and drew a foul on the rebound. The senior missed the free throw, but got her own rebound. Seconds later, Gaines found herself in the deep left corner and let a shot go. The ball rattled around the rim as she fell down, but dropped through the net to tie the contest with 1:01 on the clock. On the ensuing possession, Jessica Washington missed a 3, and Coates drew Mavunga’s fifth foul on the rebound. With 46 seconds to play, Coates calmly hit both free throws to put the Gamecocks back on top by two.

Looking to tie, North Carolina sent Brittany Roundtree to the basket, but she couldn’t hit the layup. The ball went out of bounds, but stayed with the Tar Heels and the second chance allowed Washington to knot the contest at 65-65 with 27.2 seconds to go. After a pair of timeouts, the Gamecocks set up a chance to re-take the lead and in the waning seconds, Mitchell took matters into her own hands, driving the baseline and making a spin move for an open layup with 3.5 seconds. The shot proved to be the game-winner as North Carolina’s last attempt was well off the mark.

South Carolina will face No. 2 seed Florida State, a 66-65 winner over No. 3 seed Arizona State, in the Elite Eight at noon on Sunday at the Greensboro Coliseum.

Photo courtesy of USC Athletics

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