South Carolina overcomes slow start to cross South Florida to Sweet 16

South Carolina hasn’t been at its best on offense in the NCAA Tournament. But that was more than enough to move on to the Sweet 16.

The top-seeded Gamecocks overcame a slow start on Sunday to secure a 76-45 win over No. 8 South Florida and secure their place in the second weekend of the tournament.

South Florida put South Carolina to the test early, opening up a 16-12 lead while holding the Gamecocks to 35.7 percent shooting from the field. But the Gamecocks posted a 21-point second quarter for a 33-29 halftime advantage. Then they took over.

A team that had a season of second-half dominance smothered the Bulls after halftime and relied on their depth on offense to run away with the game. South Florida scored just 16 points in the second half, tying their first-quarter tally. The Gamecocks limited the Bulls to 29.3% shooting from the field and forced 13 turnovers. They won the rebound battle, 55-28.

South Carolina and guard Zia Cooke sent South Florida and guard Aerial Wilson to the second round of the NCAA Tournament on Sunday. (Jeff Blake/USA TODAY Sports)

With 2:10 remaining in the fourth quarter and South Carolina leading 69-40, head coach Dawn Staley emptied the bench to allow the hometown South Carolina crowd to give their outgoing seniors a standing ovation on their final home game.

Aliyah Boston controlled the post for 11 points, 11 rebounds, two assists, two blocks and a steal. Fellow senior Zia Cooke paced the offense with 21 points while shooting 8 of 19 from the field. Nine Gamecocks players played 15 minutes or more as the South Carolina bench again proved to be a significant advantage. Senior Laeticia Amihere led the way with 10 points, six rebounds and a block off the bench, while sophomore guard Bree Hall added 7 points and six rebounds in 16 minutes.

Offense improved throughout the game as the Gamecocks finished at 42.3% shooting from the field, an improvement from their 38.9% effort in a first-round win over the 16th Norfolk State.

The Gamecocks improved to 34-0 as they seek a second straight national championship. The winner between No. 4 seed UCLA and No. 5 seed Oklahoma awaits next weekend.


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