Zia Cooke scored 17 points to lead top-seed South Carolina to a 76-65 win over fifth-seeded Georgia Tech on Sunday and reach the Elite Eight.
It’s the third time in the past four women’s NCAA Tournaments that the Gamecocks have at least reached the regional finals. South Carolina won the national championship in 2017.
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After going scoreless in the first half, Aliyah Boston had the first seven points in the third quarter as South Carolina (25-4) went on a 14-6 run to start the period. That lengthened a four-point halftime lead to double digits. The All-America sophomore forward finished with nine points.
The Yellow Jackets (17-9) made a run in the fourth quarter to get within 69-63, but five consecutive points — the last coming on a 3-pointer from Cooke with 3 minutes left — sealed the win. She was 5 for 6 from behind the arc.
Lotta-Maj Lahtinen scored 20 points to lead Georgia Tech.
The Gamecocks await the winner of Maryland and Texas in the Hemisfair Region final Tuesday night.
The two coaches, Dawn Staley and Nell Fortner, have a long history together going back to their days with USA Basketball.
Fortner was the head coach of the 2000 Olympic team that won gold in Sydney, Australia, and Staley was her point guard.
Staley’s success as a coach is no surprise to Fortner, who still calls her one of the best team leaders she’s ever coached. The South Carolina coach praised Fortner’s positivity, which is something Georgia Tech needed when they hired her in 2019. The Yellow Jackets were coming off a rocky end to the tenure of former coach MaChelle Joseph and needed stability.
Fortner provided that and had Georgia Tech reach its second-ever Sweet 16 in her second season. The Yellow Jackets also reached the regional semifinals in 2012.
They hung with the Gamecocks for the opening 20 minutes in a well-played first half. South Carolina built a 10-point lead before Georgia Tech scored the final six points of the half to only trail 39-35 at the break. Both teams shot well in the opening 20 minutes, especially from deep. The Yellow Jackets only missed one of their six 3-point attempts and the Gamecocks were 5-for-8 from deep.
The Gamecocks finished the game 8-for-14 from behind the arc and the Yellow Jackets were 6-for-12.
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Staley’s sister Tracey Underwood was in the stands for the game watching the Gamecocks play. Underwood was diagnosed with leukemia last year and Staley dove into the fight against the disease, calling doctors and medical centers across the country to get her help. Underwood received a life-saving bone marrow transplant from her brother Lawrence. Staley’s now using her platform to raise awareness for the need for more Black donors and allay fears about becoming donors.
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South Carolina was still without senior guard Lele Grissett, who suffered a right ankle injury in the SEC Tournament. She was getting around on a scooter and was at the end of the pregame introduction line doing handshakes and dances with her teammates as they were announced.