Mechelle Voepel covers the WNBA, women’s college basketball and other college sports for espnW. Voipel began covering women’s basketball in 1984 and joined ESPN in 1996.
SAN ANTONIO – South Carolina coach Dawn Staley still remembers all the details of the one-point loss against Stanford in the national semifinals 29 years ago as a senior guard at Virginia.
So she knows exactly how Alia Boston and the Gamecocks’ other players felt as they left the Alamodome field in tears after Stanford’s 66-65 loss in the Women’s Final Four on Friday.
Brea Beal missed a layup and then a Boston layup attempt as time expired, and the Cardinals escaped in a battle for the No. 1 spot. Stanford enters Sunday’s championship game looking for its third consecutive NCAA title, which would be the first for the Cardinals since 1992.
One or two of those moments don’t define who she is as a player, Staley said of the Boston forward. So I hope she gets over it. It won’t take long.
In fact, Boston put her hands on her head and started sobbing after her shot hit the back of the rim and deflected.
She’s a perfectionist. That’s why it hurts so much, because it’s something she practices all the time, Staley said. She’s not the kind of player to let that be her next shot, her next step in her basketball journey. But when she returns to her room, she cries. I know you do. She’ll cry a lot. But when it’s time to take it back and go back to court in a few weeks, she’ll move on.
But the players won’t be in title contention. It was Stanford, which lost 40-36 in rebounding and 9-5 in 3-point shooting, a Cardinals specialty. The Cardinals’ eight long throw attempts were the fewest in a game since February 2017.
But the Cardinals still won after a hectic ending.
Haley Jones, who led Stanford with 24 points and made 11 of 14 field goals, scored the decisive basket with 32 seconds left when she recovered a loose ball after a Stanford miss and made a jump shot.
Haley Jones was a problem for us, Staley said. She’s a security guard. Our post players played with her most of the evening. She took advantage of it.
After a timeout, South Carolina served the ball into the box and Boston blocked Cameron Brink’s shot, but got the rebound before Ashten Prechtel intercepted the ball and played it back to Stanford.
After two South Carolina fouls, the Cardinals gave the ball to Brink, who appeared to be expecting a foul. Instead, as she tried to dribble her way out of the double-team, the ball was taken from her, Boston caught the ball and passed it to Beal, who made a layup.
Beale’s shot missed, but bounced into the hands of Boston, who missed the play.
We had the game in our hands, said Zia Cook, who led South Carolina with 25 points, but we didn’t get it done.
It’s Stanford’s 14th. The Cardinals have one of the best defenses in coach Tara VanDerveer’s 35 seasons at Stanford. That gave the Gamecocks trouble all night, as they scored 11 of their 37 points on offense. The last two holes were the most dramatic.
I mean, you gotta keep the ball at the end of the game. Cam was very upset that she got away with it, VanDerveer said. But they had two good prospects. It’s the one that survives and evolves. It wasn’t a great game for us, but you have to admit that South Carolina is very aggressive and athletic. We need to learn from him and play better.
Boston, Beal and Cook are sophomores playing their first game in the NCAA tournament after missing last year due to the KOVID-19 pandemic. Staley knows how talented she is, but also how well she can keep players in check.
When asked how she would help Boston survive one last loss, Staley recalled the last game of her college career and the shot she made just before the buzzer against VanDerveer and Stanford in the 1992 national semifinals. She’s still thinking about that miss, doubts that she didn’t have the upper hand on her defender, and tries a foul.
The final score of this loss against Stanford was the same as Friday’s: 66-65
That’s how it stays with me. That’s 29 years later, said Staley, who finally earned his national championship with the Gamecocks in 2017. But from 29 years ago to now, I mean, there are so many good memories that take its place. We only talk about it when I’m asked.
Alia will get over it. Alia is a great player. Alia will come back stronger and better. If she finds herself in that situation again, she will break it down.
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