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South Carolina cruises past Creighton, into women’s Final Four

“We’e got unfinished business,” says the Gamecocks’ Aliyah Boston, referring to a loss in the national semis last year.
South Carolina coach Dawn Staley  lets loose while cutting down the net following her team’s win over Creighton in the final of the Greensboro Region on Sunday to advance to the Final Four for a second straight season.
South Carolina coach Dawn Staley lets loose while cutting down the net following her team’s win over Creighton in the final of the Greensboro Region on Sunday to advance to the Final Four for a second straight season. [ GERRY BROOME | AP ]
Published Mar. 28

GREENSBORO, N.C. — South Carolina and Aliyah Boston gained what they’d pointed toward all season: a shot at redemption in 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.

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. 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.”

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

“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 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 percent 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 feet 1. She made 6 of 7 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 seventh-seeded Colorado, second-seeded Iowa and third-seeded Iowa State.

But the grind against Power Five programs proved too much.

― BY PETE IACOBELLI

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