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Sunday July 3rd, 2022 7:15PM

No. 1 South Carolina women beat Creighton, reach Final Four

By The Associated Press
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GREENSBORO, N.C. (AP) — South Carolina and Aliyah Boston gained what they'd pointed toward all season — a shot at redemption at the Final Four.

Boston scored 19 points to lead the top-seeded Gamecocks to their second straight Final Four with an 80-50 win over Creighton, ending the Bluejays surprise run through the NCAA Tournament on Sunday night.

The Gamecocks (33-2) took control early and rarely gave Creighton a chance to get back into the game, which ended with South Carolina getting its fourth Final Four appearance in the past seven tournaments.

Boston lost her streak of 27 double-doubles in a row, as she had seven rebounds in the blowout. She's happy, though, to have another chance to compete for a national crown and wipe away the disappointment from last season.

That's when Boston missed a short putback in the closing moments of the Gamecocks' 66-65 loss to eventual NCAA champion Stanford in the national semifinals. She collapsed in tears on the court and has been almost single-minded in wanting to finish what the team missed out on then.

“It’s exciting,” Boston said of the Final Four return. “We said in the locker room, we’ve got unfinished business.”

The Gamecocks will face either Louisville or Michigan on Friday in the Final Four. The top-seeded Cardinals play the No. 3 seed Wolverines for the Wichita Region title on Monday night.

South Carolina danced and celebrated the win on Sunday as Boston held up two fingers for its back-to-back Final Fours. Boston was named the Greensboro Region MVP for her dominance through four games with 67 points and 57 boards combined.

Her signature moment, though, came Friday night against North Carolina when Boston posted 28 points, 22 rebounds and scored all 13 of South Carolina's fourth-quarter points in the 69-61 victory.

“It was pressure-packed the entire season and it's a relief to know that we're back" in the Final Four, South Carolina coach Dawn Staley said.

It was a disheartening end for the feel-good Bluejays (23-10), who had burst through the Greensboro Region to reach the Elite Eight. Lauren Jensen had 12 points to lead the Bluejays.

“Really frustrated and angry that we lost,” Creighton's Tatum Rembao said. “But really joyful for all we got to experience these last 10 days.”

South Carolina had struggled on offense down the stretch this season, especially in the past four games — shooting less than 36% in the SEC Tournament final loss to Kentucky and in NCAA wins against Howard, Miami and North Carolina.

This time, the Gamecocks were efficient, free-flowing and on target. They made six of their first seven shots to take a 13-5 lead four minutes in. When Creighton closed to 13-10, South Carolina took off on a game-changing 31-10 surge to take control for good.

Boston was her unstoppable self against an opponent without a player taller than 6-foot-1. She made six of seven shots the first two quarters for 14 points. Destanni Henderson had 10 points on 4-of-5 shooting including a pair of 3-pointers.

The Gamecocks led 46-25 at the break and built the lead to 32 points late in the fourth quarter.

Brea Beal and Henderson finished with 12 points apiece while Victaria Saxton had 11, giving South Carolina four starters in double figures. Saxton also led the team with 11 rebounds.

“It's been well deserved," Henderson said of the season. “Everyone has stepped up to the plate."

Creighton had hoped its unconventional, fire-away-from-3 attack might take the Gamecocks by surprise as it did to seventh-seeded Colorado, second-seeded Iowa and third-seeded Iowa State.

But much like No. 15 seed St. Peter's on the men's side in its lopsided loss to North Carolina earlier Sunday, the grind against Power Five programs proved too much to keep Cinderella dancing. Creighton could not match up sizewise with South Carolina and were outrebounded 43-23.

“There were times we had all five blue jerseys going after the board and they still came out with it,” Jensen said.

THE BIG PICTURE

Creighton: Bluejays coach Jim Flanery said it Saturday — he had a bunch of sophomores running around out there and overachieving. Next year, they'll be back with more experience and a clear direction of how good they can be. That could mean another successful NCAA run for the Big East Conference's Bluejays.

“A lot of good things ahead for Creighton,” Flanery said.

South Carolina: The Gamecocks have discussed a singular expectation — to win it all — since they lost to Stanford in the Final Four last year. South Carolina has arrived at that watershed moment, and are eager to collect the team's second national title in five years.

EXPECTATIONS MET

Staley entered the season with a high bar to reach after the school gave her a $22.4 million megadeal last October. Interim President Harris Pastides said at the time they expected a lot from Staley. She certainly delivered this year, as her team was No. 1 the entire season and finished with the latest trip to the Final Four. The Gamecocks will seek their second tournament title after winning it all in 2017.

“She's done so much for the game of basketball,” Boston said. “She deserves everything's she's getting and she deserves more.”

ALL-REGION

Along with Boston, Henderson also made the all-Greensboro Region team. The other three were Jensen from Creighton, Deja Kelly from North Carolina and Emily Ryan from Iowa State. Kelly scored 23 points in the loss to South Carolina while Ryan had 22 points in the Cyclones defeat to Creighton.

___

More AP coverage of March Madness: https://apnews.com/hub/march-madness and https://apnews.com/hub/womens-college-basketball and https://twitter.com/AP_Top25

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