Lady Gamecocks top FSU, punch ticket for Final Four

5South Carolina advanced to its first Final Four with an 80-74 comeback win over No. 7/7 Florida State at the Greensboro Coliseum on Sunday afternoon. Tiffany Mitchell put the Gamecocks (34-2) ahead for good with seven straight points, and Asia Dozier drained four pressure-packed free throws to hold off the Seminoles down the stretch.

Mitchell led South Carolina with 21 points, tying her highest output of the season, as well as six rebounds, five assists and two blocks. Alaina Coates added 14 points on her way to collecting Regional Most Outstanding Player honors.

Elem Ibiam opened the afternoon with the Gamecocks’ first four points on a shot in the lane and an open layup on a backdoor cut. After Ibiam’s points, South Carolina struggled to find a rhythm on the offensive end against the Seminoles and were plagued by turnovers, giving up the ball five times in a four-minute stretch. Mitchell attempted to sway the momentum, driving to the basket for back-to-back tough layups, but the Seminoles opened up a 22-13 lead by the 8:07 mark.

Not long after taking the court, Bianca Cuevas asserted herself, driving into the Florida State height and converting layups on consecutive possessions. Mitchell went to the basket for a score, and A’ja Wilson fought through a double team for a bucket and converted a traditional three-point play. Wilson also scored the Gamecocks’ next six points, but South Carolina still trailed by seven at 37-24 with 3:31 to go in the half.

Friday’s hero Olivia Gaines and Cuevas worked to draw the Gamecocks to within one point. Gaines knocked down a jumper, Cuevas converted a difficult layup and picked up the foul for a three-point play – three of her nine first-half points – and Gaines juked her defender and swished another shot from the same spot. The teams traded baskets on the closing possessions of the half and Florida State took a 41-38 lead into the locker room.

Out of the break, Aleighsa Welch looked to get going. First, Mitchell drove to the basket and dumped it off to Welch for the layup. The senior then netted a jumper to close the gap to two at 42-44. The Seminoles pulled back out to a 51-44 lead after a Gamecock turnover and transition layup from Shakayla Thomas at the 14:06 mark.

Coates answered with a gritty three-point play, Welch added a free throw and Mitchell hit Coates with a lob in the paint. The stretch forced a Seminole timeout with their lead whittled down to one at 51-50 with 12:15 to play. FSU’s Brittany Brown drained a 3 from the corner to slow the surging Gamecocks, but Coates added another basket and split a pair of free throws before Mitchell drove to the basket, giving South Carolina its first lead of the game at 55-54 with 10:08 to play.

The teams shot free throws on six of the game’s next seven possessions, but the Gamecocks could not take advantage, going just 3-of-8 in the sequence. South Carolina kept the Seminoles off the scoreboard for three and a half minutes to take a 63-60 lead with 6:00 to play, but Florida State scored the next five points to go back on top, 65-63, going into the final four minutes of the game.

Wilson knotted the game with a pair of free throws, and the Seminoles scored on two free throws over two trips to the line to go up 67-65. The Gamecocks scored the next seven points as Mitchell took over. The All-American first hit Welch with a pass for a layup, then she drove the lane for a contested layup of her own. Finally, she swished a 3 from the deep left corner to put the Gamecocks up by five with just over a minute to play. Florida State hit a pair of free throws to close in, but Mitchell went to work on the offensive end again, grabbing her own miss after a drive to the basket and hitting the ensuing free throws.

Florida State’s Adut Bulgak hit a 3 with 18.4 seconds to play to cut the deficit to two, but Dozier calmly drained a pair of free throws with 17.4 seconds remaining and returned to the line to do it again after another Florida State score. With just four seconds remaining, Khadijah Sessions sealed the victory with a steal and layup to send South Carolina to the Final Four.

Photo courtesy of USC Athletics

Every Gamecock that touched the floor scored, with Wilson adding 10 to Mitchell’s 21 and Coates’ 14. Coates was 6-of-6 from the floor. The Gamecocks shot 61.2 percent from the field, assisting on 14 of 30 field goals.

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