Greenville, S.C. — Size, size, and more Size. That is what the gamecocks used to overpower their opponents along with their impeccable defense. It was put on display by Kamila Cardosa. The 6-7 junior scored 10 points while reigning national champion South Carolina turned in its latest overwhelming defense-and-rebounding-first performance to beat UCLA 59-43 on Saturday in the Sweet 16 of the women’s NCAA Tournament.
Last year’s Naismith award winner Aliyah Boston had eight points, 14 rebounds, and two blocks for the Gamecocks (35-0), the top overall tournament seed and the headliner in the Greenville 1 Region. Aliyah Boston is the only player in the country to rank in the top five in both categories on offense and defense.
This was the gamecocks ninth straight sweet 16 appearance. The win marked South Carolina’s 41st consecutive victory, securing the program’s sixth trip to the Elite Eight all under head coach Dawn Staley. The Gamecocks will play for their fifth trip to the Final Four in Monday’s regional final against 2-seed Maryland.
It wasn’t an easy for South Carolina, with UCLA sagging defense to pack the paint in hopes of negating the Gamecocks’ size advantage behind Boston. But South Carolina dominated the glass from start to finish and used its length to turn every look into a difficult one for the fourth-seeded Bruins (27-10).
The Gamecocks entered the game ranked first in Division I in scoring defense, field-goal percentage defense, and rebounding margin. They did nothing to change that, holding UCLA to 15-for-51 shooting (29.4%) — including 3 for 18 from 3-point range — while finishing with a 42-34 rebounding advantage that narrowed late after they led big. UCLA coach Cori Close added, “they have been the best defense team the last 10 years.”
Charisma Osborne scored 14 points to lead UCLA, which was in the Sweet 16 for the eighth time and first since 2019. The Bruins were pursuing their first Final Four appearance.
Once the game started, the Bruins tried desperately to close off the paint and dare the Gamecocks to shoot from outside.
The Bruins kept missing shots. Worse, they failed to grab any rebounds on their misses to keep possessions alive early, with South Carolina going on to finish with a 15-8 edge on the boards offensively.
South Carolina continued grinding and relying on their length. They led 25-15 at halftime before finally breaking the contest in the third quarter. Twice the Gamecocks managed to lob a pass inside to the 6-foot-7 Cardoso, who used her long arms to reach over and snag the ball for a easy under-the-rim finish in traffic.
It was all the same often-demoralizing sequences that has overwhelmed teams all season, this time coming with the home-state Gamecocks as the main draw here in the new double-regional format.
They drew loud cheers from the crowd just for making their way into the locker-room tunnel during the Notre Dame-Maryland game with their game to follow. The roars returned as each player who lingered to wrap up pregame shootaround came off the court — several waving two arms high in acknowledgement — in a mostly full arena. It seemed like a home game for the gamecocks who were just a hundred miles up the road.
Dawn Staley started unloading her bench with less than five minutes left in the final frame. The cheers were louder, of course, as the Gamecocks spent the final minutes closing out a win to advance again. Carolina advances to the Elite 8 with a defining victory.