South Carolina coach Dawn Staley watched once more as All-American A'ja Wilson took control of a victory and whispered to an assistant, ''How are we going to replace '22?'''
Fortunately for Staley, she doesn't have to find out the answer yet after Wilson, No. 22, had 25 points and 11 rebounds in her last-ever college home game to lead the Gamecocks to a fifth straight trip to the Sweet 16 with a 66-56 over No. 10 seeded Virginia in the women's NCAA Tournament's Albany Regional on Sunday night.
Wilson, the three-time Southeastern Conference player of the year, posted her 23rd double-double of the season and 53rd of her career for the Gamecocks (28-6).
''At the end of the game when I got subbed out that's when it sank in, this is my last time here,'' Wilson said. ''My last time here in this uniform.''
And the second-seeded Gamecocks needed every one of Wilson's points to push past Virginia (19-14).
Up 30-25 at the half, South Carolina opened up a 12-point lead in the third period before the Cavaliers cut it to 46-40 with 10 minutes left.
Virginia still trailed just 52-47 after Dominique Toussaint's driving bucket with 6:39 to play.
That's when Doniyah Cliney hit a high-arching 3-pointer from the right corner and Wilson added two short jumpers to put the Gamecocks in front by double digits. Virginia could not respond.
Wilson came out of the game for good with 34.5 seconds left to a standing ovation from the late-night crowd. She hugged head coach Dawn Staley before standing on the sidelines and gabbing with the training staff as time ticked away.
After a quick TV interview, Wilson danced her way around the Colonial Life Arena, waving to adoring fans - there were 10,037 for Staley's late-night pajama party - and stopping in front of the pep band to dance some more before running to embrace her parents.
''This has been a great four years,'' said Wilson, whose family is about 30 minutes from campus in Hopkins. ''This is my home and, hopefully, when I return, we'll have the same energy.''
Wilson added three of her team's five blocks and three assists in her final game on her home court. The Gamecocks have gone 62-4 at home with Wilson on the roster.
South Carolina has reached the round of 16 for the past five seasons - including four with Wilson - and six of the past seven years.
Virginia was seeking its first regional semifinal since 2010. The Cavaliers hung tough most of the game despite going up against Staley, the greatest women's athlete in Virginia athletics who led the program to three Final Fours when she played from 1989-92.
''I'm so incredibly proud of this team, just their fight,'' Cavaliers coach Joanne Boyle said. ''They just fought and believed in each other.''
Toussaint and J'Kyra Brown had 16 points each to lead Virginia.
QUOTABLE DAWN STALEY
On being able to pull away from Virginia down the stretch
“Sometimes it’s just timing. It’s going to take more than a quarter, and sometimes it takes two quarters to put teams away and gain some separation. Virginia is a very good team – they have some great guards and great post players. We were confident, and we got the better of them over that 40-minute period.”
• With the win, the Gamecocks advanced to the NCAA Sweet 16 for the sixth time in the last seven seasons.
• A’ja Wilson, Alexis Jennings, Bianca Jackson and Tyasha Harris all reached double figures against UVA. Sunday marked the first time four Gamecocks tallied double-digit scoring efforts since Carolina’s 94-60 victory over Wofford on Nov. 19.
• Gamecock senior forward A’ja Wilson led all scorers with 25 points. The performance was her fifth 20-point game in NCAA Tournament play.
• Carolina guard Bianca Jackson has netted double-digit points in each of her first two NCAA Tournament games. The freshman has knocked down at least two 3-pointers in both contests.
After UVA cut the Carolina lead to 52-47 with 6:39 to play, the Gamecocks responded with a 7-0 run to push the advantage back to double digits at 59-47. Senior forward A’ja Wilson accounted for the final four points during the stretch after knocking down consecutive shots from the top of the key, after Doniyah Cliney opened the surge with a shot-clock-beating 3-pointer.
Carolina’s size down low was the difference Sunday, as the Gamecocks boasted a 30-16 advantage in points in the paint and outrebounded UVA 41-31 for the game.
The second-seeded Gamecocks will face either third-seeded Florida State or 11th-seeded Buffalo in the NCAA Sweet 16 on Sat., March 24, in Albany, N.Y. The contest will take place at either 11:30 a.m. or 2 p.m. ET at Times Union Center.