Led by 15 second-half points from junior guard Kaela Davis and a double-double from junior forward A’ja Wilson, No. 3/4 South Carolina rallied to earn a 71-68 win over Arizona State in the second round of the NCAA Tournament Sunday night at the Colonial Life Arena. The Gamecocks, who trailed by as many as 11 in the second half, advanced to their fourth-straight NCAA Sweet 16 and moved to 29-4 overall with the win. Arizona State ends the season at 20-13 following the loss.
After a 9-0 run by the Gamecocks handed Carolina a double-digit advantage with 5:51 to play, the Sun Devils fought back and scored the game’s next 11 points to go ahead 68-67 with just over two minutes remaining. Wilson made sure the Gamecocks would not be denied, and the forward put her team back on top after following her own shot and converting a layup to make it 69-68 Carolina with 48 seconds left. Davis delivered the next big play, coming up with a steal to preserve the lead and give the ball back to the Gamecocks with 18 seconds to play. Arizona State fouled Wilson on the ensuing in-bounds play, and the junior calmly knocked down a pair of free throws to stretch the lead to 71-68. Davis again came up clutch on the defensive end and sealed the victory after contesting a Sun Devil 3-pointer that rimmed out as time expired.
Wilson finished with a game-high 21 points, 10 of which came in the second quarter. She grabbed 11 boards and made each of her seven free throw attempts, and the Hopkins, S.C., native added two blocks on the defensive end. Davis, who totaled 20 points on the night, did well to get to the line after the half and went 6-of-8 from the charity stripe in the final 20 minutes. She chipped in four assists and two steals, while Gamecock junior guard Allisha Gray nearly notched her second-straight double-double after finishing with 11 points and eight rebounds.
A pair of 3-pointers helped the Gamecocks jump out to a six-point lead early, with freshman guard Tyasha Harris connecting from long range before Davis knocked down a field goal from the right wing to make it 10-4 with 6:35 to play in the first quarter. Carolina converted five of its first seven field goal attempts of the night, and a put-back bucket from Gray established a 12-6 lead 40 seconds later. The basket jumpstarted an efficient opening quarter for the junior, who registered the Gamecocks’ next two field goals, including a jumper from the right side that halted a 7-0 Arizona State run and put the Gamecocks in front 16-13 with 2:12 left in the period. South Carolina freshman forward Mikiah Herbert Harrigan provided the final points of the quarter for Carolina with three free throws over the final 1:48, and the Gamecocks headed to the first break with a 19-15 advantage. Gray totaled six points on 3-of-4 shooting and added four rebounds in the first 10 minutes.
The Sun Devils scored seven of the first nine points of the second quarter to grab a 22-21 lead in a stretch that ended with three free throws after Arizona State guard Sabrina Haines was fouled on an attempt from beyond the arc. Carolina’s response came from the charity stripe, and a pair of free throws from Wilson and junior guard Bianca Cuevas-Moore helped put the Gamecocks back in front at 25-24 with 6:36 left in the first half. The contest remained a one-possession game over the next few minutes as Wilson began to establish herself down low. Two buckets from the left block established a 29-26 Gamecock advantage, but the Sun Devils responded by banking in a 3-pointer from the right side to even the tally at 29 with under four minutes to play in the period. Two layups from the left side gave Arizona State a 33-29 lead, and the advantage grew to five at 36-31 when Sun Devil guard Sophie Brunner connected on a free throw with 53 seconds to play in the half. Carolina’s points continued to come from Wilson, who knocked in two more free throws to bring her team within four of the lead in the closing stages of the quarter. The junior accounted for 10 of the Gamecocks’ 14 points in the period, and two teams headed to the locker room with Arizona State leading 39-33.
Davis again provided a spark from deep, drilling a 3-pointer from the left corner to cut the Gamecock deficit to 44-36 after Arizona State opened the third quarter on a 5-0 run. Another bucket inside from Wilson inched Carolina closer to the lead and made it 44-38 before both offenses stalled over the next few minutes. After Arizona State’s second field goal from beyond the arc pushed its advantage to 47-38, the Gamecocks provided their response in the paint, as redshirt sophomore guard Doniyah Cliney rolled in a layup before Herbert Harrigan’s basket from the right block made it a five-point game at 47-42 with 3:33 left in the period. Carolina again struck from the left corner, and a heads up pass from Davis set up Cuevas-Moore for a 3-pointer that made it 49-45 just over a minute later. The Gamecock backcourt produced down the stretch, as a jumper from Davis followed by a pair of free throws from the guard brought Carolina to within four at 53-49 with 29 seconds to go in the quarter. More momentum shifted towards the Gamecocks when Cliney stole the ball away and converted a layup the other way to make it 53-51 Arizona State before the teams entered the final break.
Davis continued to answer the call in the fourth quarter and Carolina evened the score at 53 less than 20 seconds into the period when the junior converted a pair of free throws. Wilson’s tough put-back bucket 46 seconds later led to a three-point play that gave the lead back to the Gamecocks at 56-55 before Davis delivered another big shot, converting a jumper from the left side to stretch the lead to 58-55 with 8:20 to play. Gray carried the Carolina offense over the game’s next sequence, starting with a three-point play after she collected a pass on the left block from Harris. The scoring play made it 63-57 Gamecocks, and two free throws from Gray pushed the cushion to 65-57 with 6:46 remaining. Davis’ sixth field goal of the night, a contested layup from the left block, came a minute later and capped a 9-0 Gamecock run that established a 67-57 lead midway through the quarter.
South Carolina went 23-of-28 from the line for the game and scored 15 points off 15 Arizona State turnovers. The Sun Devils held a 36-29 rebound advantage, while the Gamecocks scored 32 points in the paint.
Carolina forward A’ja Wilson’s put-back bucket with 48 seconds to play gave the Gamecocks a lead they would not relinquish. Three of the junior’s four offensive rebounds Sunday came in the second half.
The Gamecocks made the most of their time at the line, connecting on 23 of their 28 free throw attempts. Juniors Kaela Davis and A’ja Wilson combined to go 13-of-15 from the charity stripe.
· Sunday’s win gives South Carolina a spot in the NCAA Sweet 16 for the fifth time under head coach Dawn Staley.
· Gamecock junior forward A’ja Wilson’s performance against Arizona State marked her third double-double in NCAA Tournament play.
· Each of the last three contests between the Sun Devils and Gamecocks have been decided by five points or less. Carolina has won the last two meetings, both coming by a one-possession margin.
· Junior Kaela Davis has three 20-point outings over Carolina’s last six games. Sunday marked the sixth time this season the guard has scored at least 20 points in a game this season.
South Carolina will battle either fourth-seeded Miami or the No. 12 seed Quinnipiac in the NCAA Sweet 16 on Sat., March 25, in Stockton, Calif. Tipoff time and TV coverage for the contest at Stockton Arena will be determined following the completion of the second round.