SAN ANTONIO — One by one, South Carolina players walked through the confetti and climbed the ladder to cut down the net in the Alamodome.
It was only fitting that the Gamecocks got to keep the nylon. They used it way more than Texas did.
Zia Cooke scored 16 points and South Carolina used its stifling defense to advance to the Final Four for the third time, shutting down Texas for a 62-34 victory Tuesday night.
Top-seeded South Carolina blocked 14 shots, nine by Laeticia Amihere, and held No. 6 Texas to 23% shooting. The Longhorns were outscored 10-0 in the fourth quarter.
The Gamecocks have been on a mission ever since they felt they were denied a real chance at the national title last season when the NCAA Tournament was cancelled because of the pandemic. It showed all night long, but especially during the first scoreless quarter in the tourney since the women’s game went to quarters in 2016.
“It says they’re locked in,” South Carolina coach Dawn Staley said. “They have been focused, they wanted the opportunity to get to the Final Four. They know nothing about what they just accomplished. I like who we’re bringing into this Final Four.”
South Carolina (26-4) won the Hemisfair Region to advance to Friday’s national semifinal against Stanford, the tournament’s overall No. 1 seed. UConn and Arizona meet in the other national semifinal.
Destanni Henderson and Victaria Saxton each scored 12 for the Gamecocks, and Amihere also had 10 points and eight rebounds in a terrific all-around performance.
South Carolina ran out to an 19-point lead in the third quarter, and responded to a Texas run with a burst started by a 3-pointer from Henderson. Then it put a lid on basket in the fourth.
“We don’t back down from anyone,” Cooke said. “We just made sure that we put our foot on the gas, kept our guard up and did what we needed to do.”
Staley ran her championship game record against Texas’ Vic Schaefer to 6-0, dating to when they faced each other in the SEC when Schaefer was at Mississippi State. That includes beating Schaefer in the 2017 national final.
“They can test you at everything that you do. Whether 3-point range or at the rim,” Schaefer said. “That’s a reflection of Dawn. To me, those kids really embody probably how she was as a player.”
Schaefer took the Texas job in April 2020 and coaxed an impressive postseason run out of the Longhorns behind a grinding defense that carried the school to the brink of its first women’s Final Four since 2003.
Texas was looking to become just the third No. 6 seed to make the Final Four since Notre Dame in 1997.
“This feeling right now, it’s tough,” said guard Kyra Lambert, who played at least 38 minutes in Texas’ last three games and provided the go-ahead basket against Maryland in the Sweet 16. “This is not how I pictured this to end.”
The Longhorns looked tired and a step slow after tough wins over UCLA and Maryland. They may have simply been worn out by the time they matched up with the big and quick Gamecocks, who pressured the ball on the perimeter and denied shots inside.
Audrey Warren led the Longhorns (21-10) with 13 points.
“Texas was a little tired,” Staley said. “I said, ‘They may have some weary legs, but their hearts are going to keep beating.’ And their hearts did keep beating, it’s just that we just never let them off the hook.”
South Carolina had no problems attacking the Texas defense early, with three backdoor passes for layups by Saxton as the Gamecocks raced to an 18-7 lead. And the Gamecocks denied drives to the basket and produced four quick blocks when Texas tried.
The Longhorns shot just 3 of 16 in the first quarter. Meanwhile, South Carolina shot 57% in the first half and stretched the lead to 41-22 early in the third before Texas clawed back with a 9-0 run that forced Staley to call timeout.
South Carolina answered with a 3-pointer from Henderson to start the Gamecocks on the run that would put the game away.
BATTLE UNDER THE BASKET
Aliyah Boston, South Carolina’s All-American center, dominated her matchup with Texas forward Charli Collier, who is projected as the No. 1 pick in the WNBA draft. Boston consistently pushed Collier away from the basket and never let her get comfortable with her shot. Collier was a non-factor on the night, finishing with four points on 2-of-10 shooting points and four rebounds. Boston scored 10 and grabbed eight boards while controlling the paint.