Naismith Women's Player of the Year Candidate Aliyah Boston leads the Gamecocks into the NCAA Tournament (Credit: South Carolina Athletics)
The University of South Carolina women’s basketball team begins its run in the NCAA tournament on Sunday as the No. 1 seed in the Hemisfair Region in San Antonio, Texas. Connecticut, Stanford and North Carolina State are the No. 1 seeds in the other three regions.
USC plays Mercer at 6 p.m. against No. 16 seed Mercer University, champions of the Southern Conference. The game can be seen on ESPN. Mercer and USC have not played this year but have two previous matchups, 2003 and 2006, with South Carolina winning both games. If USC can defeat the Mercer Bears, it will face the winner of the Oregon State/Florida State game in the round of 32.
USC has run out nearly the same starting five all season, in Zia Cooke, Aliyah Boston, Destanni Henderson, Victaria Saxton and Brea Beal. South Carolina is a well-balanced team with great contributions from all over its roster. Cooke averages 15.9 points per game while shooting 37% from behind the 3-point line. Forward Boston is averaging a double-double with 13.7 points, 11.7 rebounds and nearly three blocks a night. Henderson is the Gamecocks’ leading playmaker while supporting a solid all around line with 12.6 points, 5.2 rebounds and 5.0 assists per game, She is shooting 43% from behind the arc.
Mercer has a well balanced attack that could be difficult to stop with four players averaging at least 13 points, led by junior guard Amoria Neal-Tysor with 28.4 per game
“I like our region and the tournament feels wide open so we feel good about where we are and where we left off a week ago,” said USC Head Coach Dawn Staley in an interview on gamecocksonline.com. “No matter who you play, you’re going to have to play whether it’s the first round or the second round. As you advance in this tournament it gets harder and harder.”
USC is not the tournament favorite. The Gamecocks won the SEC tournament, but dropped three of their last seven games played in the regular season. UConn and Stanford come into the tournament riding 14-game win streaks and only have one and two losses, respectively this year.
UConn appears to the favorite. Freshman sensation Paige Bueckers averages 19.7 points. Head coach Geno Auriemma tested positive for COVID-19 and will miss the team’s first two games in the tournament.
Alex Gabrick’s picks
UConn, N.C. State, South Carolina and Baylor are my picks for the Final Four. Baylor is the only non-No.1 seed I picked to make it, because it is on a 17-game winning streak. UConn and USC will meet in the national championship game, with UConn coming out on top and winning its 12th title.
The Final Four will be Gonzaga, Texas, Baylor and Oklahoma State. Gonzaga will win the national title, as it has been the No. 1 team all year.