Frontcourt Leads Gamecocks In 79-63 Sweet 16 Win Over Buffalo

Frontcourt Leads Gamecocks In 79-63 Sweet 16 Win Over Buffalo
Source: AP

ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) - Alexis Jennings scored 20 points, A'ja Wilson added 20 points and 13 rebounds, and South Carolina beat Buffalo 79-63 on Saturday to keep alive its quest to defend its title.

Second-seeded South Carolina (29-6), whose only losses this year have come against ranked teams, will face the winner of the other Sweet 16 matchup in the Albany Region between top-seeded and unbeaten UConn and Duke, who played later Saturday.

Upstart Buffalo (29-6), just the third Mid-American Conference school to reach the Sweet 16, was among the final four teams to earn an at-large berth. It was the program's second tournament appearance after a first-round exit two years ago.

The Gamecocks, who have won six straight, defeated North Carolina A&T and Virginia by double digits in the first two rounds, holding both to under 60 points as they stayed on track to make a third Final Four in four seasons. But those performances had flaws - 19 turnovers in one - that coach Dawn Staley focused on correcting. They didn't on Saturday -

South Carolina had 26 turnovers - but in the end it didn't matter.

Cierra Dillard led Buffalo with 29 points, the only player in double figures.

The Gamecocks led 55-48 entering the fourth quarter, and the Bulls stayed with them, closing to 60-54 on Dillard's driving layup off the glass with 6:38 left. But Buffalo missed three straight shots and a fast-break layup by Doniyah

Cliney gave South Carolina a 10-point lead with just over 5 minutes to go.

Buffalo is a senior-dominated team and has players from around the globe - four from Australia, a couple of Canadians, one from Nigeria - as well as Buffalo-area locals. That melting pot of sorts had created a close-knit group and they helped contribute to the madness of March that has seen 11th seeds wreak havoc on brackets. The 11th-seeded Bulls had already vanquished sixth-seeded South Florida (102-79) and third-seeded Florida State (86-65) - on the Seminoles home court, no less.

Buffalo coach Felisha Legette-Jack, who nearly quit coaching after being fired by Indiana, had said her Bulls were ''too silly and quirky to be afraid'' and their late-season rush proved it. The Bulls had lost only once in 13 games, the lone setback coming against Central Michigan in the MAC Tournament two weeks ago. That was one of two setbacks to CMU, which won the MAC title and also reached the Sweet 16.

The Bulls quickly proved they belonged on the big stage, forging a 7-0 run early against the Gamecocks. Dillard's 3 from the left wing gave Buffalo a 10-6 lead midway through the first quarter. South Carolina missed three layups and committed eight turnovers in the period but only trailed 17-16 at the end of the period despite taking six fewer shots than the Bulls.

As they often did during the season, the Bulls attacked repeatedly from beyond the arc and stayed close until the waning minutes before halftime.

A three-point play by freshman LeLe Grissett began a 12-2 run by the Gamecocks as they continued to attack relentlessly inside. A 3 from left wing by Tyasha Harris and a layup by Jennings gave South Carolina a 40-28 lead.

After a layup by Dillard gave Buffalo a one-point lead with 5:50 left in the first half, the Bulls missed five times and committed a turnover before Stephanie Reid hit her only basket of the opening two periods - a 3 with 6.4 seconds left.


• With the win, the Gamecocks advanced to the NCAA Elite Eight for the third time under head coach Dawn Staley. Carolina has reached the Elite Eight in three of the last four seasons.

• Saturday marked Carolina senior forward A'ja Wilson's sixth 20-point game in NCAA Tournament play. She has reached double figures in 15 of her 17 NCAA postseason games.

• Carolina forward Alexis Jennings finished the game 7-of-11 from the field to record her fifth 20-point outing this season. The junior's 20 points marked her highest scoring output since she netted 22 against Arkansas on Jan. 25.

• Gamecock sophomore guard Tyasha Harris sits just one assist shy of equaling Carolina's single-season record after tallying a game-high nine dimes against the Bulls.


After a 3-pointer from the Bulls cut the Carolina lead to 70-62 with 3:20 to play, the Gamecocks closed the game on a 9-1 run to pull away and secure the double-digit victory. Forward A'ja Wilson, one of three Gamecocks to register points during the stretch, notched two field goals over that time.


Carolina's size down low was pivotal, as the Gamecocks boasted a 48-21 rebound advantage and scored 52 of their 79 points in the paint. A'ja Wilson and Alexis Jennings combined to shoot 14-of-27 from the floor in the win over Buffalo.


The second-seeded Gamecocks will face top-seeded UConn in the NCAA Elite Eight on Mon., March 26. Tipoff from Times Union Center is slated for 7 p.m. ET, and the contest will air on ESPN.