March 31, 2024 

‘It’s unfinished business’: Gamecocks earn Final Four berth

The Gamecocks bested another opponent to reach the Final Four for their fourth consecutive season — but they aren't done yet

As confetti coated the South Carolina Gamecocks after their Elite Eight victory over Oregon State, head coach Dawn Staley turned to the team and delivered a concise message.

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“We’ve got practice next week,” were her very first words to the players. 

Most coaches would be beaming immediately after a win of this caliber, a Final Four berth, but the Gamecocks have unfinished business. They know when to have fun – and they did, just a few minutes later as players traded off forming “confetti angels” on the hardwood and dancing with their teammates.

“Each time we get an opportunity to knock down some nets to go to the Final Four is really special because you don’t know when it’s going to be the last time that you’ll do it,” Staley said.  

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Their perfect season is not over yet. They came out victorious on Sunday, but the two remaining games standing between them and a national title are focused in the center of their minds, and they have been for the past year. The Gamecocks made it this far last year before suffering a 77-73 loss to Caitlin Clark and the Iowa Hawkeyes in the Final Four.

“I don’t want to get too excited,” Raven Johnson said. “Because I felt that last year and we lost. I don’t want to get my hopes up so fast. It’s unfinished business and we just need to keep the same mentality.”

This is the fourth consecutive year that the Gamecocks have made the Final Four and the sixth time in nine years. They won it all in 2022 with the help of No. 1 overall WNBA draft pick Aliyah Boston, and they’re determined to be champions again two years later with almost entirely new personnel.

South Carolina was tested in their game against the Beavers, more so than in any of their three previous NCAA tournament contests. Oregon State stuck with them until the very end, and cut it to a 62-58 deficit with less than four minutes remaining. But the Gamecocks responded, scoring the final eight points of the game. 

“[I’m] just proud because we beat the [preseason] odds,” Staley said. “The odds said that we weren’t – we shouldn’t make it back to the Final Four. Just proud of our team and for them believing in themselves. They created a certain level of chemistry and culture, and they stuck with it, and then they allowed us to coach them.” 

South Carolina was able to close out yet another victory, this time with a major contribution from freshman Tessa Johnson. Johnson finished with 15 points, just one shy of a career-high she set against Morgan State in December. Her 12 second-half points were crucial to the Gamecocks success on Sunday afternoon.

“They want to play for each other,” Staley said. “They want to not disappoint each other. They hold each other accountable.” 

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Now, after the historic season they’ve put together, no one is ready for it to come to a close. So, while the Gamecocks will bask in this moment tonight, soon enough, they’ll be back to work.

South Carolina hasn’t faced much adversity this season – until now. Their Sweet 16 and Elite Eight matchups came down to the final few minutes on the clock. But this is a team full of fighters, and one full of winners.

“It shows how good we are,” said Kamilla Cardoso, the lone remaining South Carolina player who made a significant contribution on the national title team two seasons ago. “It shows how hungry we are. We stay hungry and we don’t want to lose. We’re going to do whatever it takes for us to win these games.”

The No. 1 seed Gamecocks have earned a spot in the Final Four and will face No. 3 seed NC State this Friday in Cleveland.

They’re one step closer to the finish line. 36 wins down, two to go.

Written by Talia Goodman

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