March 30, 2024 

South Carolina is chasing a perfect season — and a perfect 40 minutes

With a Final Four berth on the line, Oregon State will be the next team to try to stop the Gamecocks

ALBANY, N.Y. — Every team that has faced the undefeated No. 1 South Carolina Gamecocks this season has been an underdog. Most have been run out of the building: The Gamecocks have outscored opponents this season by more than 30 points per contest and won their first two NCAA Tournament games by a total of 99 points.

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But Friday’s close call in the Sweet 16 against Indiana proved that the Gamecocks aren’t indestructible. They are mortal.

Next up: No. 3 seed Oregon State.

The Beavers were picked 10th in the Pac-12 preseason poll but are coming off a win over No. 2 seed Notre Dame in the Sweet 16 to earn a shot at the Gamecocks. This will be the fourth tournament matchup all-time between the two teams.

“They’re excellent,” Oregon State head coach Scott Rueck told reporters on Saturday. “It’s not the first time we’ve seen them, of course. … We’ve got to do what we do, and we’ve got to do it at an extremely high level.”

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The Beavers have been in position to take down an undefeated foe in the NCAA Tournament before. In the 2016 Final Four, Oregon State faced a 36-0 UConn team. That Huskies team was full of future pros, much like the Gamecocks this season. Oregon State wound up losing by 29 points, and UConn went on to win the national title.

“The entire roster was a first-round draft pick and [won] Breanna Stewart’s fourth national championship,” Rueck said. “That team stretched you in so many ways. They scored so easily from everywhere. This team is similar.” 

Related reading: Oregon State wants to be ‘America’s team’

This South Carolina squad is full of winners, head coach Dawn Staley noted on Saturday. Despite any setbacks they may face, they pull through in clutch moments and, so far, have always come out with a win. 

Post player Kamilla Cardoso is 6’7 of pure dominance. She’s nearly unstoppable. Even the best posts in the country, like Indiana’s All-American Mackenzie Holmes, can’t contain Cardoso. On Friday, she scored 22 points, grabbed seven boards, dished out four assists and blocked three shots.

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This South Carolina team, while undefeated, still has its issues — like blowing second-half leads. But now isn’t the time to make major changes. What they’ve done all season long has worked.

“At this point, it’s about just being able to play to the habits you’ve created all season long,” Staley said. “And when they go haywire, you’re just trying to, in real time, make adjustments. That’s what it’s about at this stage of the game.”

The Gamecocks weren’t happy with Friday night’s win over Indiana. They let the Hoosiers come back from a 22-point deficit and nearly win. They held a sizable lead for much of the game and nearly let their perfect season go. 

“If we could put four quarters together, I think we would be an incredible team to play against,” Staley said. “We haven’t done it yet. We’ve put a great half together. We’ve put three great quarters together. But it’s a testament to the talent. There are talented teams in our sport, and there aren’t very many teams that can play four quarters of perfect basketball.”

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Staley noted that the Beavers are a “calculated” team that slows the pace down and has a strong defensive presence. “You have to be really disciplined,” she said. “You’ve got to out-discipline them on both sides of the basketball to win this game.”

But the Gamecocks aren’t easily daunted. They’ve played on the biggest stages from November to March, starting with their season opener against Notre Dame in France. And they’re looking to finish off a historic season at the Final Four in Cleveland, with a national title to show for it.

Written by Talia Goodman

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