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Undefeated South Carolina advances to Final Four

Undefeated South Carolina advances to Final Four

ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) - Dawn Staley has South Carolina back in a familiar place - the Final Four - and she got there this time with an entirely new starting lineup.

Tessa Johnson scored 15 points and Kamilla Cardoso added 12 to help the undefeated Gamecocks to a 70-58 win over Oregon State on Sunday in the Albany 1 Regional Final of the women's NCAA Tournament.

“Proud because we beat the odds,” Staley said. “Odds said we shouldn’t make it back to the Final Four. Proud of our team for them believing in themselves. We created a certain level of chemistry and culture and they stuck with it.”

It’s the second consecutive year the Gamecocks have made it to the national semifinals undefeated. South Carolina hopes for a different conclusion this time. The Gamecocks lost to Caitlin Clark and Iowa in the Final Four last year.

“We’re different this year. I think we can do a lot of things. We can shoot from outside, drive,” Raven Johnson said. “We can play from the inside out. This team is just a young, feisty, fierce team that’s hungry. We’ve got a chip on our shoulder.”

The Gamecocks, who have made the Final Four in four straight years, will play N.C. State on Friday night in Cleveland. The Wolfpack beat Texas later Sunday in Portland, Oregon.

“Each time we get an opportunity to cut down nets is kind of special,” Staley said.

Two more wins by South Carolina would make the Gamecocks the 10th school to finish a season undefeated and the first since UConn did it in 2016.

Top-seeded South Carolina (36-0) led by four at the half and built a 14-point lead before No. 3 seed Oregon State (27-8) got within 62-58 with 3:55 left in the game.

Tessa Johnson answered after a timeout with a three-point play, scoring on a drive to restore a seven-point cushion. The Beavers then went cold from the field, missing their final seven shots.

South Carolina couldn't score either until Johnson made two free throws with 44.5 seconds left. The Gamecocks sealed the win from the free throw line.

“We got every shot we wanted down the stretch of this game and they didn't fall,” Oregon State coach Scott Rueck said. “Give them credit for not giving us two. … In this game today we had to be near flawless and we weren't quite flawless enough.”

Raegan Beers scored 16 points to lead the Beavers.

This was the second straight game in which South Carolina let a double-digit second-half lead slip away. Just like against Indiana in the regional semifinal, the young Gamecocks made the necessary plays down the stretch.

“Winning close games late in the tournament … it shows how good we are, how hungry we are,” said Cardoso, who was honored as the region's Most Outstanding Player. “We stay hungry because we don’t want to lose. So, we’re just going to do whatever we need to do to win the games.”

South Carolina led 43-41 before scoring 12 straight points in the third quarter. Raven Johnson, who hit the big 3-pointer to beat Indiana in the Sweet 16, connected on a corner 3 to start the game-changing spurt. Tessa Johnson followed with five straight points, and Sania Feagin capped the burst with the four points that made it 55-41 with 1:36 left in the third quarter.

The Beavers were down 58-46 heading into the fourth. They scored 12 of the first 16 points of the period to close within 62-58 on Donovyn Hunter's layup.

South Carolina and Oregon State had played twice before in the NCAA Tournament and the Gamecocks won both, including in 2021. Oregon State advanced this far for the first time since 2018. The Beavers made their only trip to the Final Four in 2016.

The Gamecocks dominated the offensive boards to take a 37-33 lead at the half. South Carolina had 13 offensive rebounds in the first 20 minutes. Oregon State was able to stay in the game by hitting six 3-pointers, including three by Lily Hansford in the opening half.


South Carolina's Ashlyn Watkins had a solid effort off the bench with eight points, 14 rebounds and four blocks.

“I love playing defense and jumping and being active on the defensive end,” Watkins said. “That’s what gets us started on the offensive end.”


South Carolina is two victories away from its third national championship.


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