COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — Zia Cooke scored 21 points and Aliyah Boston had her 81st career double double as top-seeded South Carolina shook off a slow start to power past eighth-seeded South Florida and into the Sweet 16 with a 76-45 victory Sunday.
The Gamecocks improved to 34-0 with their 40th straight win overall and moved four victories away from a second straight national title. They’ll head to Greenville, where they won the Southeastern Conference Tournament two weeks ago, to play for a spot in the Final Four.
Boston, the program career record holder for double doubles, finished with 11 points and 11 rebounds, coming out of her final game at home to a huge ovation.
South Florida (27-7) entered looking for a program-record 28th win this season and its first berth in the Sweet 16, but after a feisty start, couldn’t hang with the Gamecocks.
Elena Tsineke, just 5-of-16 shooting in Friday’s OT win over Marquette, scored seven of the Bulls’ first 10 points on the way to a 16-12, first quarter lead in front of an edgy crowd on South Carolina’s home court.
But Boston, the All-American and two-time Southeastern Conference player of the year, took things over in the second period.
Her inside basket put South Carolina ahead to stay 21-20 as it outscored the Bulls 21-13 in the period. And Boston wasn’t just active offensively, she got after it on defense twice diving on the floor to chase free basketballs.
Late in the second quarter, the 6-foot-5 Boston stopped a drive by Maria Alvarez near the basket, then ran out to the sideline to double team Emma Johansson into a turnover.
The Gamecocks, outrebounded 10-9 the first 10 minutes, took control of the glass after that, finishing with a comfortable edge of 52-28.
South Florida made just five of its 28 shots the final 20 minutes and was held to its lowest point-total this season, 25 below its season’s average.
Tsinkeke led the Bulls with 20 points. Fankam Mendjiadeu was held to just four points on 2-of-9 shooting.
South Florida: It should be a different Bulls lineup with fifth-year senior Dulcy Fankam Mendjiadeu and Tsineke likely gone. Sammie Puisis, the Florida State transfer listed as a junior, can return and if she does, could become an even more dynamic scorer than she was this season. Carla Brito was a freshman starter and should play a bigger role next season.
South Carolina: Just another day at the NCAA Tournament office for the Gamecocks, who’ve been a near Sweet 16 lock under Dawn Staley the past decade of so. They’ve reached the round of 16 in 10 of past 11 tournaments, only missing in 2013. There was no tournament in 2020 due to COVID-19.
South Carolina will face either fourth-seeded UCLA or fifth-seeded Oklahoma in the Sweet 16 next Saturday.
AP March Madness coverage: https://apnews.com/hub/march-madness and https://apnews.com/hub/ap-top-25-womens-college-basketball-poll and https://twitter.com/AP_Top25
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