Gamecocks guard Kierra Fletcher (Photos by Caroline Barry)
The South Carolina Gamecocks advanced to the Sweet 16 of the NCAA Women’s Basketball Tournament after two substantial wins in the first weekend.
USC beat Norfolk State and South Florida on the way to its ninth consecutive Sweet 16 appearance.
“We focus on one game at a time, and we don’t look ahead against anyone,” Gamecocks guard Kierra Fletcher said in a Sunday postgame press conference. “We just try to stay in the moment.”
Head coach Dawn Staley isn’t losing sight of what the team could accomplish.
“It’s been truly a coach’s dream,” Staley said in the press conference. “I hope that every coach gets a chance to coach a team like this.”
Both of the team’s first weekend games were played at USC’s Colonial Life Arena. It could be the final time that senior forward Aliyah Boston, the national 2022 player of the year, plays at home for the Gamecocks.
Boston finished the second-round game against South Florida with 11 points and 11 rebounds. It was her 21st double-double of the season and 81st of her college career.
Senior guard Zia Cooke led the team in scoring over the course of the weekend, finishing with 32 total points.
Both Cooke and Boston are a part of the 2019 “freshies” recruiting class that also featured Brea Beal, Laeticia Amihere and Olivia Thompson. The class only lost one game at home over four seasons.
All of those players have an extra year of eligibility due to the COVID-shortened 2019-20 season. But Aliyah Boston is projected to be the first overall pick in April’s WNBA Draft.
“I have never coached a player like (Boston), that is full of sacrifice,” Staley said.
The team is still focused on winning a championship after a celebratory day for many at Colonial Life Arena.
“At this point we don’t think about losing,” Staley said. “We just think about what’s in front of us and trying to make it to the next stage of this tournament.”
The Gamecocks will play No. 4 seed UCLA in Greenville on Friday. South Carolina has already beaten UCLA this season, winning by nine points in November.
South Carolina has a 90% chance to reach the Final Four in Dallas, according to data journalism site FiveThirtyEight. The team has a 65% chance to win the entire tournament.
The Gamecocks have made the Final Four in four of the previous seven tournaments. They were national champions in 2017 and 2022.
The team has the chance to win consecutive women’s basketball championships for the first time since the University of Connecticut won the second of its three back-to-back championships in 2015.
The 2016 Connecticut team was also the last team to go undefeated and win the championship.
The Gamecocks have won 40 consecutive games, winning each game since March 6, 2022, when they lost the 2021-22 SEC Championship.
“On to the next, here we go,” Boston said in the press conference.