Stanford edges South Carolina 66-65 in the Final Four, heads to title game for the first time since 2010

SAN ANTONIO, TX - APRIL 2: Stanford Cardinal players celebrate their win over the South Carolina Gamecocks in the semifinals of the NCAA Women’s Basketball Tournament at Alamodome on April 2, 2021 in San Antonio, Texas. (Photo by Justin Tafoya via Getty Images)
SAN ANTONIO, TX – APRIL 2: Stanford Cardinal players celebrate their win over the South Carolina Gamecocks in the semifinals of the NCAA Tournament at the Alamodome on April 2, 2021 in San Antonio, Texas. (Photo by Justin Tafoya via Getty Images)

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The team led by the winningest coach in women’s college basketball heads to the national championship game after defeating South Carolina 66-65 Friday night in San Antonio at the Alamodome. Stanford (30-2, 19-2 Pac-12), the overall top seed in the tournament, edged the Gamecocks (26-5, 14-2 SEC) in a gritty and physical contest that went down the wire as the Gamecocks missed a couple of shots in a frenetic finish.

“This is one of those survive and advance,” said Stanford coach Tara VanDerveer of the close contest. “It was not a pretty game for us, but that’s credit to South Carolina, how aggressive they are, how athletic they are. We’re going to have to learn from it and play better.”

With 32 seconds left in the game, Stanford led by just one point after a second-chance jumper from sophomore guard Haley Jones. South Carolina had two chances to take the lead in the final moments. First sophomore guard Brea Beal missed a driving layup, and then sophomore forward Aliyah Boston missed a follow-up.

South Carolina, the top seed in the Hemisfair Region, looked ready to punch a ticket to the title game early on, racing out to a 5-0 lead with Boston and junior guard Destanni Henderson leading the charge. However, with Jones taking the initiative offensively, Stanford recovered to finish the quarter on a 9-0 run. A jumper from senior guard Kiana Williams capped the streak.

With Stanford outscoring South Carolina 16-10 in the second quarter, the game’s momentum took a shift towards the Cardinal. The team had valuable contributions from its reserves, including sophomore forward Ashten Prechtel, who came off the bench for 7 points in the quarter. At the break, Stanford had a 31-25 advantage.

South Carolina made up ground in the third quarter outscoring the Cardinal 24-21 to give fans an exciting last ten minutes. And even though the Gamecocks managed to outpace Stanford 16-14 in scoring in the fourth quarter, it was those misses by Beal and Boston that sealed the outcome of the contest.

“It is nice to have a little karma go your way,” VanDerveer said of the misses that kept the Gamecocks from winning.

Six players scored for Stanford, led by Jones, who finished with 24 points plus four rebounds. Junior guard Lexi Hull added a double-double of 18 points plus 13 rebounds along with four assists.

Jones, playing in her first tournament, was in a state of disbelief after the game.

“It’s surreal. I don’t think it’s really hit me yet,” Jones said when asked how she felt to be going to the national championship. “I mean, everybody growing up, you wish to go to the national championship, play on the biggest stage, in front of the biggest crowd against the best team.”

Sophomore guard Zia Cooke paced South Carolina with 25 points. Henderson added 18 points plus five rebounds, and Boston contributed a double-double of 11 points and 16 rebounds.

VanDerveer complimented South Carolina head coach Dawn Staley’s staff and the team’s talented players.

“I just want to credit Dawn and their team and their staff,” VanDerveer said. “It was a battle. It was a really tough game. We had to work really hard. They rebound really well. They shot the ball really well. Cooke had a great game. We just really didn’t have an answer for her.”

In the win, Stanford surpassed the tournament record for made threes. With five made threes in the game, the Cardinal’s tally increased to 55, one more than the record set by UConn in the 2015 tournament.

Stanford last played in the championship game in 2010. The Cardinal has two titles, winning in 1990 and 1992. The team will play Arizona on Sunday in an All-Pac-12 championship game. Tipoff is set for 6 p.m. ET/3 p.m. PT on ESPN.

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