Thursday, December 1 2022


South Carolina’s Brea Beal and Louisville’s Hailey Van Lith tackle a loose ball during the second half of a college basketball game in the semifinals of the Women’s Final Four NCAA Tournament on Friday, April 1, 2022 at Minneapolis. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)


Standing near the top of the key, Louisville point guard Hailey Van Lith spotted an opening in the South Carolina defense.

The Cardinals were down nine at the start of the fourth quarter Friday night, and with almost everything else failing, Louisville’s leading scorer and spark plug tried to shake things up.

Van Lith rolled to his left, hoping to make a clear path to the basket. But in an instant, Brea Beal was on the scene. Using her speed and a six-inch height advantage, the Gamecocks guard met Van Lith at the free throw line and harassed her to the hoop.

Van Lith threw an off-balance runner that leaped harmlessly off the backboard and into the arms of South Carolina’s Aliyah Boston, who started a fast break that Beal finished at the other end with a layup.

That trade characterized most of the night for the Cardinals, who lost 72-59 in the NCAA Women’s National Semifinal. The Gamecocks’ defense, one of the best in the nation, proved too strong for Louisville, which has averaged 72.2 points per game this season but faltered under pressure from South Carolina and matchups. difficult.

South Carolina will face UConn in Sunday’s championship game. The Huskies beat Stanford 63-58 in the other national semifinal.

Beal and fellow guard Destanni Henderson harassed Van Lith all game, limiting her to just nine points on 4-for-11 shooting after averaging 21.5 points through the first four games of the NCAA Tournament.

“They did a really good job of making it difficult for me to get the ball,” Van Lith said. “They clearly weren’t going to let me get hit. They basically shielded me from the face the whole game. They did a good job of executing that.

Louisville isn’t the only team to cave under South Carolina’s overwhelming defense. The Gamecocks finished the season ranked third in the nation defensively, allowing just 50.5 points per game. They stepped up their efforts in the NCAA Tournament, stifling their opponents at record pace.

“I think it’s just a mentality to have every game,” Beal said. “You can’t just turn it on and off whenever you want. … Especially now, you just have to lock yourself in and know what your job is to do offensively and defensively.

In their 79-21 win over Howard in the first round, the Gamecocks gave up just four points in the first half – an NCAA Tournament first/second round record, as was the 21 total points allowed in a game. .

South Carolina kept up the pressure in the second round, beating Miami 49–33. The combined 54 points was the fewest a team had ever allowed in the first two rounds of the tournament, breaking the previous record of 17.

“We just like to be disruptive, take option one out, option two out, then play you on a short clock,” Gamecocks coach Dawn Staley said of her team’s defensive approach. “Not a lot of teams are super effective in low shot clock situations, so we try to put them in that and then we bounce the basketball.”


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