A strong second half was not enough for No. 8/8 South Carolina as the Gamecocks (29-5) fell to No. 12/13 North Carolina 65-58 in the NCAA Sweet 16 on Sunday evening at Maples Pavilion. Freshman Alaina Coates notched her freshman school-record 10th double-double of the season, scoring a game-high 22 points and pulling down 11 rebounds.
North Carolina scored the first five points of the contest and looked to take control of the physical game. The Tar Heels made their move midway through the first half, going on a 9-2 run to build a 10-point lead at 20-10. The Gamecocks scored the next five points, making the score 20-15 with 6:42 on the clock, but did not find the basket for the next four minutes. While South Carolina was able to feed the post at will, the shots just were not falling.
Latifah Coleman gave the Tar Heels their largest lead of the half at 27-15 with three minutes remaining, draining a 3 from straight away as the shot clock was expiring. A minute later, Elem Ibiam halted the Gamecock drought with a layup and foul. A free throw later, the Gamecocks were back within single digits at 27-18.
With 24 seconds on the clock, Tiffany Davis drained a 3 from the right side to pull South Carolina to within eight. On the other end, an Asia Dozier steal gave the Gamecocks one more chance before the break. Khadijah Sessions launched a shot that did not fall, and South Carolina trailed the Tar Heels 29-21 at the half.
Three minutes into the second half, Coates checked in and imposed her will on the game. On the Gamecocks’ first possession with the freshman on the court, Coates drew a foul and sank two free throws. She also reasserted herself on the defensive, blocking a shot on her first defensive possession of the half as well.
After a put back from Aleighsa Welch on the following Gamecock possession, Coates took over on the offensive end, scoring in the post on the next three possessions to draw the Gamecocks to within three at 32-35 with 14:45 to play. It was the closest since the Gamecocks had been since the 12-minute mark in the first half.
The Tar Heels forced the Gamecocks away from Coates on the next few possessions, and Diamond DeShields asserted herself on the offensive end to put the Tar Heels back ahead 39-32. After scoring just two points in the first half, Tiffany Mitchell sank back-to-back 3s to keep South Carolina close at 41-38 with 12 minutes to go, but the Gamecocks needed stops on the defensive end.
Welch and Coates combined on the effort to bring South Carolina within one at 43-42 after Welch intercepted a lob on a North Carolina backdoor play, and Coates converted on consecutive buckets on the other end. With 8:43 to go, it seemed the Gamecocks were carrying the momentum, but the Tar Heels seized it back with back-to-back 3-pointers from Jessica Washington and DeShields. The shots put the Tar Heels up 49-44 with 7:08 remaining.
Mitchell again kept the Gamecocks within striking distance with a long-range shot to make the score 49-47 just 30 seconds later, and the Gamecocks kept driving. A Coates basket made the score 53-51 with five minutes left, but the Tar Heels had the answer, scoring six unanswered points to stretch the lead out to 59-51 with 2:40 on the clock.
Welch and Coates combined for five straight points, limiting the Tar Heels to one tough shot on the other end in between, but the Gamecocks could get no closer as North Carolina hit free throws down the stretch, and South Carolina’s shooting woes continued.
Mitchell and Welch joined Coates in double figures, scoring 11 and 10 points, respectively. In addition to her double-double, Coates also blocked four shots. Dozier dished out a game-high four assists.