September 29, 2023

Brighton Journal

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March Madness Saturday: South Carolina stays perfect

March Madness Saturday: South Carolina stays perfect

GREENVILLE, South Carolina — The University of California, Los Angeles, Women’s Regional Semifinal against South Carolina kicked off the defensive strategy nearly every team has tried this season against the undefeated Gamecocks. Sitting in zone defense, the Bruins dropped their guards below the free throw line to help defend against the towering South Carolina forwards.

South Carolina struggled, shooting just 38 percent from the field and 25 percent from 3-point range, but UCLA couldn’t turn the reigning champion’s mistakes into points, falling 59-43 to send the Gamecocks to the eighth round.

South Carolina took advantage of the chances of the second opportunity and beat the Bruins offense, and its star forward Alia Boston took the lead, with 8 points, 14 rebounds and 2 blocks.

During the first three games from this common area at Bon Secours Wellness Arena, on Friday and Saturday, a few fans filled only the sections near the middle area, with most of the arena remaining empty. That changed on Saturday afternoon. Just as the Maryland-Notre Dame game was about to end and the South Carolina game was set to begin, fans in garnet jerseys swarmed the arena. They screamed with their team’s every score and booed anything for fourth-ranked UCLA.

The arena is considered a neutral regional site by the NCAA, but it effectively serves as the home game for South Carolina, the tournament’s No. 1 seed. UCLA head coach Corey Close acknowledged the damage done before the game but said the regional spots were “important to continue growing our sport.”

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“Look how many upsets we had on the local courts in the first two rounds,” she said. “The bottom line is you have to play your best basketball, you have to be a strong team, you have to team together, you have to find ways to win.”

UCLA looked poised to threaten South Carolina’s quest for a second straight title. When the teams played in November, the Gamecocks overcame a halftime deficit and ended up winning by 9. After the game, South Carolina coach Don Staley told Close that they would see each other again.

Staley’s words were prescient, but this match has never been so close. South Carolina proved why they were the best team in Division I all season, with the height and fitness to overwhelm UCLA

South Carolina plays Maryland on Monday.

When the Notre Dame-Maryland matchup occurred in December, the game quickly became The Diamond Miller Show. Miller, a 6-foot-3 guard, scored her 31st point on an A.J Winner of the deceptive one-legged bird. She ran around the Notre Dame home court with her index finger to her lips to silence the crowd.

On Saturday, in the NCAA Women’s Round of 16, Notre Dame seemed intent on shutting down Miller’s bid. The Fighting Irish—sometimes a trio—teamed Miller when she got the ball in position.

But Notre Dame’s strategy to stop Miller at all costs left room for other players, who took advantage of the open look and kept the game close while Miller struggled. In the second half, Miller finally got into a groove, and second seed Maryland upset third seed Notre Dame, 76-59. Maryland will advance to its first quarterfinal game since 2015. Miller and guard Sean Sellers led all scorers with 18 points each.

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“I felt like they were daring me to shoot,” said Maryland guard Lavender Briggs, who scored 12 points.

Notre Dame threw the first token hit of the game. Down by 5, the Fighting Irish scored 13 straight points in the second quarter, neutralizing Miller and leading Maryland’s half-court offense to forced shots and fumbled passes that resulted in turnovers.

But in the second half, Miller got away. And Maryland responded with a big third quarter, courtesy of Miller and Sellers. Maryland cruised at four.

Despite the eight-year drought, the eighth round is familiar to Maryland and its coach, Brenda Friese. Since it began in 2002, Maryland has been among the top teams in college basketball. The Terrapins have reached the eighth round six times and won the program’s only national title in 2006.

Women’s championship

  • No. 2 UConn vs. No. 3 Ohio State, In Progress, ABC

  • No. 1 Virginia Tech vs. No. 4 Tennessee, 6:30 p.m., ESPN2

Men’s championship

  • No. 3 Kansas State vs. No. 9 Florida Atlantic, 6 p.m., TBS

  • No. 3 Gonzaga vs. No. 4 Yukon, 8:50 p.m., TBS