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March Madness: Top-seeded SC advances after beating USF

COLUMBIA — Aliyah Boston proved once again that she is far from a one-dimensional superstar.

While the South Carolina All-American posted his 81st career double-double with 11 points and 11 rebounds in a 76-45 win over South Florida to advance to sweet 16 on sundayhe also used his unparalleled defense to energize his team and get them off a slow start to maintain their momentum for back-to-back national titles.

“He made a lot of plays that don’t show up on the stat sheet,” South Florida coach José Fernández said.

Like when the No. 1 overall pick next month in the WNBA draftShe dove twice on the floor to corral a loose basketball, then after blasting Maria Álvarez’s shot toward the basket, she ran to the sideline to double Emma Johansson and force a turnover.

“That’s just her,” said South Carolina coach Dawn Staley, who has watched and admired the effort over the past four seasons.

Zia Cooke scored 21 points for the Gamecocks, who improved to 34-0, won their 40th straight game and came four wins away from repeating as national champions. They’ll head to Greenville, where they won the Southeastern Conference Tournament two weeks ago, to play for a spot in the Final Four.

“Just because I know my teammates are giving me their all, I want to do the same,” Boston said. “I’ve always had that energy on defense when I was younger and I’ve kept it now that I’m in college.”

South Florida (27-7) was hoping for a program-record 28th win this season and their first berth in the Sweet 16, but after a spirited start, couldn’t hang on with the Gamecocks.

Elena Tsineke, shooting just 5-for-16 in Friday’s bonus win over Marquette, scored seven of the Bulls’ first 10 points en route to a 16-12 first-quarter lead in front of a nervous courtside crowd. South Carolina local.

The Gamecocks, outrebounded 10-9 in the first 10 minutes, took control of the board after that, finishing with a comfortable 52-28 lead.

South Florida made just 5 of their 28 shots in the final 20 minutes and held at their lowest point total this season, 25 below the season average.

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Tsinkeke led the Bulls with 20 points. Fankam Mendjiadeu was held to just four points on 2-of-9 shooting.

“His physicality started kicking in, so I guess we couldn’t really keep up,” Tsineke said.

South Florida: Should be a different Bulls lineup with fifth-year Dulcy Fankam Mendjiadeu and Tsineke likely missing. Sammie Puisis, the Florida State transfer listed as a junior, may return, and if he does, she could become an even more dynamic scorer than she was this season. Carla Brito was a first-year starter and should play a bigger role next season. “I told them, ‘Don’t let this define the year we had,’” said Fernández, the USF coach.

South Carolina: Just another day in the NCAA Tournament office for the Gamecocks, who have been close to the Sweet 16 with Dawn Staley for the past decade. They have reached the round of 16 in 10 of the last 11 tournaments, missing only 2013. There was no tournament in 2020 due to COVID-19.

Dawn Staley wore a replica jersey for Cheyney State, the only HBCU program to play in a Final Four. Staley wore the No. 44 of Yolanda Laney, who said she organized youth basketball summer leagues in the Philadelphia area in which the Gamecocks coach participated as a hopeful for hoops.

South Carolina’s #1 Ranked Recruiting Class 2019 they closed out their four years at home with a 60-1 record, the lone loss coming to North Carolina State in December 2020 during their sophomore seasons. That class featured Boston, Cooke, Brea Beal, Laeticia Amihere, and Olivia Thompson. It was also a historic win for Staley, who won his 400th game with the program since he took over before the 2008-09 season.

South Carolina will face fourth seed UCLA or fifth seed Oklahoma in the Sweet 16 next Saturday. The Bruins and Sooners play on Monday.

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