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Blue Devils take out S. Carolina

Alana Beard wasn't about to let Duke fall short of the Final Four.

Beard scored 24 and Monique Currie added 15 as the top-seeded Blue Devils beat South Carolina 77-68 Monday in the East Region championship to earn their second trip to the Final Four.

The Blue Devils (31-3), who have won a school-record 22 consecutive games, advance to San Antonio to face Oklahoma, the winner of the West Region final, in Friday's national semifinals. Duke returns to the Final Four for the first time since 1999, when it lost to Purdue in the championship game.

Beard was 9-for-12 from the floor, and had 7 rebounds, 5 assists, 5 steals and 2 blocks to earn Most Outstanding Player.

"She's an incredible basketball player," teammate Sheana Mosch said. "She can take over a game when she wants. She's awesome, but I wouldn't be surprised if she could play even better than that."

No. 3 seed South Carolina (25-7) scored the first eight and rallied from a 13-point halftime deficit to take a one-point lead midway through the second half. But the Blue Devils answered every run.

"I know every last one of these girls here want to win," Beard said. "Our chemistry is just so strong right now.

"We said, "Good teams make runs, but better teams make runs back.' "

Trailing 35-22 at halftime, the Gamecocks used several zone and trapping defenses to slow Duke. They scored nine consecutive points to tie the score at 42 and took a 46-45 lead on a layup by Jocelyn Penn with 9:54 to play.

Beard answered Penn's layup with a 3-point play and two free throws for a 50-46 lead with 9:03 left. After a hanging jumper by Currie, Beard found reserve Krista Gingrich on the wing for a 3-pointer and a 55-49 lead.

She later found Michele Matyasovsky rolling to the basket for a layup, hit two free throws and a short jumper in the lane for a 68-59 lead with 3:16 left. South Carolina didn't get closer than five the rest of the way.

Duke scored on 10 of its next 11 possessions after South Carolina took the lead.

"That's experience and toughness on their part," South Carolina coach Susan Walvius said. "They were fantastic today. They had an answer to everything we threw at them."

Duke also found success by driving the ball into the paint and getting to the free-throw line. Duke hit 15 of 19 free throws in the second half compared to the Gamecocks' 4-of-6 effort for the game.

"We had so many players step up at different parts of the game, offensively and defensively," Duke coach Gail Goestenkors said. "We have eight people understanding their roles and doing what is necessary for the team to be successful."

Shaunzinski Gortman had 17 points to lead South Carolina, while Penn added 14. But the Gamecocks couldn't get many buckets in transition or dominate the glass, two things they did well in an 87-81 overtime win against Duke during the regular season.