Throughout this season, the South Carolina women’s basketball team won a lot of games by making its opponents uncomfortable.
On Monday, it was the Gamecocks who got out of their comfort zone.
Two days after knocking off host Colorado, 12th-seeded Kansas pushed the pace and upset the 4th-seeded Gamecocks 75-69 in the second round of the NCAA Tournament at Coors Events Center.
“The pace of the game was not our pace,” USC head coach Dawn Staley said. “It was Kansas’ pace and they pushed tempo and they made us play a little bit quicker. We can’t sustain that. In order for us to stay in basketball games and win basketball games, we have to control it from a defensive standpoint and we didn’t do that.”
Because of that, South Carolina (25-8) came up short of a second consecutive trip to the Sweet 16. Instead, Kansas (20-13) will go there for a second year in a row.
A No. 11 seed last year, Kansas is the first No. 12 seed to reach the round of 16 since San Francisco in 1996. No. 12s are now 2-15 in the second round since the NCAA went to a 64-team format in 1994.
“We both came out and we both wanted to win,” said Gamecocks sophomore Aleighsa Welch, who had 16 points and 11 rebounds. “We both tried to do whatever we could to pull out a win and it showed with every possession. At the end of the day, they just made more plays than we did.”
Welch was one of three Gamecocks to post a double-doubles, along with Ashley Bruner (16 points, 12 rebounds) and Elem Ibiam (12 points, 10 boards), but they could not slow down the Kansas offense.
USC came in as the No. 4 defense in the country, allowing just 49.5 points per game, but gave up 42 in the first half alone. KU’s 75 points was the second-most allowed by USC this season, as the Gamecocks fell to 0-3 when allowing at least 70 points.
Kansas’s Monica Engelman had a career-high 27 points, while Angel Goodrich tallied 20 points and eight assists. Engelman had 18 points in the first half alone, taking advantage of USC’s Sancheon White being in foul trouble. White had the assignment to guard Engelman, but played just eight first-half minutes and 19 overall because of foul trouble.
Engelman went 10-for-18 from the floor.
“Tonight was her night,” USC’s Ieasia Walker said. “She was on.”
South Carolina certainly tried to keep up. Bruner scored with 2:50 to go to tie the game at 69-69. The Gamecocks could not score again, however. Walker missed a potential game-tying 3-pointer with 28 seconds to go, and then Goodrich came up with a big steal on an in-bounds play in the closing seconds to seal the win.
After making 51.6 percent of their shots in the first half, the Gamecocks made just 26.8 percent (11 for 41) after halftime. They also missed seven of 13 free throws in the second half.
“It’s unfortunate that we ended up on the short end of the stick, but certainly both teams gave it all they had,” Staley said. “It’s unfortunate also that our seniors had to go out this way because they laid it on the line. They had enough will to win us a basketball game tonight, but Kansas had a lot to do with why we’re sitting here first (in the post-game press conference) instead of them.”
Walker, Bruner and White all saw their careers come to a close. They began their careers with a losing record as freshmen and ended it with back-to-back NCAA Tournament appearances and a 50-17 record in those two seasons.
“I’m proud to be a Gamecock,” said Bruner, who finished her career with four consecutive double-doubles. “I’m proud of where we’ve been and how far we’ve come. To say it’s the end, I’m not quite ready to say that yet.”
Gardner 1-6 3-6 5, Davis 6-11 0-1 12, Goodrich 7-15 4-5 20, Engelman 10-18 5-6 27, Hawkins 2-4 0-0 5, Boyd 0-1 0-0 0, Williams 1-4 0-0 2, Harper 2-4 0-0 4. Totals 29-63 12-18 75.
SOUTH CAROLINA (25-8)
Bruner 8-21 0-3 16, Welch 6-14 4-8 16, Walker 4-14 2-2 11, White 1-4 1-2 3, Mitchell 2-8 2-2 7, Sessions 1-3 2-2 4, Montout 0-0 0-0 0, Dozier 0-0 0-0 0, Ibiam 5-8 2-3 12. Totals 27-72 13-22 69.
Halftime_Kansas 42-41. 3-Point Goals_Kansas 5-10 (Goodrich 2-4, Engelman 2-4, Hawkins 1-1, Boyd 0-1), South Carolina 2-8 (Mitchell 1-2, Walker 1-5, Sessions 0-1). Fouled Out_None. Rebounds_Kansas 43 (Gardner 12), South Carolina 47 (Bruner 12). Assists_Kansas 14 (Goodrich 8), South Carolina 9 (Walker 4). Total Fouls_Kansas 17, South Carolina 15. Technical_Williams. A_2,171.