Midway through the fourth quarter, Texas coach Vic Schaefer shook his head in frustration and looked down.
He had just watched his Longhorns endure their twelfth blocked shot of the game. Less than 20 points, they hadn’t scored a single time in the quarter, and what looked like a tough loss was about to turn into an outright win.
The No. 1 South Carolina defense closed out No. 6 Texas with brutal efficiency in their Elite Eight showdown on Tuesday. The Gamecocks won, 62–34, after keeping the Longhorns scoreless for the entirety of the fourth quarter. For South Carolina, the nation’s leader in blocking and one of its strongest rebounding teams, this show of defensive strength was nothing new. But it was a particularly strong statement to do so at Elite Eight, especially against a Texas team that just showed its own defensive prowess in its loss to offensive behemoth No. 2 Maryland.
“They are long, very fast and athletic,” Schaefer said. “They can test you in everything you do. Whether you’re in three-point range or at the rim, they really make it difficult for you … Part of defending is contesting the shot. A lot of people don’t do that, and they do. “
South Carolina finished with 14 blocks, tied for their best of the season and forced 15 turnovers. It resulted in the lowest total score of the year for Texas. (That distinction had previously been maintained by a 61-35 loss to Baylor in February.) The Longhorns looked off balance all night, backtracking around corners and getting locked up on bad shots. They missed their last 19 field goals and posted their lowest field goal percentage of the season at just 23%.
“We play with our guard up,” said South Carolina sophomore Zia Cooke. “We knew Texas was a good defensive team … Maryland was supposed to win that. [Sweet 16] game, but they did, and it could have been the same for this game. We were supposed to win, but it could have been the other way around, so we made sure to put our foot on the gas, keep our guard up and do what we had to do. “
It was the first time in the history of the women’s tournament that a team was scoreless for an entire quarter. But South Carolina coach Dawn Staley said she didn’t even realize her team had accomplished such a feat until she had a chance to look at the minutes after the celebration. “It didn’t feel like that,” he said. “We were just locked in.”
The game had been positioned as a showdown between Charli Collier from Texas and Aaliyah Boston from South Carolina. Both stand out as powerful 6-foot-5 forwards who average a double-double; Collier could be the first pick in the next WNBA draft, and Boston, a sophomore, could eventually follow. But Collier battled the Gamecocks’ physical defense and posted one of his toughest performances of the year. She scored just four points on 2 of 10 shots.
“They protected us the way we like to protect,” said Kyra Lambert from Texas.
Boston scored 10 points with eight rebounds. But some of South Carolina’s biggest contributions came from her teammates: Zia Cooke, who scored 16, and Laeticia Amihere, who scored 10 with nine blocks.
“I thought the timing might have been the best of [Boston] right from the start, ”Staley said. “It took her a while to adjust to being the Aaliyah we need her to be… But Aaliyah does so many other wonderful things. Today he did not score the ball, but he rebounded, defended, he was there, he was present ”.
It’s the first trip to the South Carolina Final Four since 2017. Then, they made it all the way, winning a national championship by defeating a Mississippi State team trained by none other than Shaefer. (This is his first season at Texas after eight at Mississippi State.) Tuesday night’s game, particularly his tough defense, reminded him of the strength he saw in that team, he said.
“That’s a reflection of Dawn,” Schaefer said. “These kids really embody her… They are an extension of her. You have to respect that. “
Eddie is an Australian news reporter with over 9 years in the industry and has published on Forbes and tech crunch.