Oregon St.'s season and their NCAA Tournament run came to an end at the South Carolina free throw line, as the Gamecocks made 34 of 43 free throws, including their last 6 straight, and 12 of 14 in the last minute and a half, to hold the Beavers at bay.
Oregon St. rallied from a deficit induced by foul trouble that rendered Ruth Hamblin a non factor offensively, and a disastrous shooting night by Sydney Wiese, to cut what was as large as an 18 point deficit to single digits 7 different times in the final minute and a half, but South Carolina never flinched in advancing to the Sweet 16.
The Beavers led 3-2 on a 3 pointer by Ali Gibson, and after the Gamecocks ran out to an 8-3 lead, went on a 5-0 run capped by the first of 5 3s on the night by Jamie Weisner to tie the game at 8 apiece, but South Carolina led at every other point in the game, though the Oregon St. defense kept them in the game into the final minute.
South Carolina answered being tied with one of two 7-0 runs they made in the first half, which opened a 9 point, 34-25 halftime lead.
The cause of the problem for the Beavers was a disastrous offensive first half by their starters. Gibson had 8 points, but due to early foul trouble for both Devon Hunter, who had her 3rd foul 5:44 before the break, which also put the Gamecocks into the double bonus, and Hamblin, and the beginning of what would be a 38 1/2 minute scoring drought for Wiese, the other 4 starters only combined for a single basket in the entire first half.
Had it not been for Jamie Weisner coming off the Oregon St. bench to hit 3 3 pointers, and score 10 points, the Beavers would have been blown out of American Airlines Arena before the break.
It's not as though everything was going wrong for Oregon St., as they accomplished one of their game objectives to perfection in the first half, shutting out SEC Player of the Year Tiffany Mitchell.
But Aleighsa Welch picked up the slack, with a dozen first half points.
The free throw problem that eventually became extreme was already becoming apparent, as South Carolina was 13 of 16 at the line, while Oregon St. was only 2 of 6.
5 of 16 3 point shooting kept the Beavers in the game, but the difference in styles of the teams couldn't have been more apparent than by the fact that the Gamecocks took only 1 3 point shot in the first half, and Khadijah Sessions connected on it 4 minutes before the break to open the first double digit lead of the game, putting South Carolina up 29-19.
Oregon St. continued to contribute to their own difficulties, failing to convert the rare breaks they were able to get, and Hamblin missed time after time on short shots that should be, and normally are, automatic for her, having shot 58% from the field for the season.
Weisner nailed another 3 pointer, but Mitchell came out of the locker room a different player, scoring South Carolina's first 5 points, and her 3 pointer and another by Asia Dozier opened a 42-28 lead 3 minutes into the second half, and forced Oregon St. into an early timeout.
Foul trouble went to a whole new level early going in the second half, as Hunter had her 4th personal 5 minutes in, and Gibson got her 3rd at the same time. Then Hamblin, who had picked up her 3rd personal 45 seconds in, got her 4th at the 14:35 mark.
Oregon St. coach Scott Rueck, needing defense and rebounding, gambled and left Hamblin, who already had 7 rebounds and 3 blocked shots, in the game. It backfired, as the 6'6" post picked up her 5th foul a minute and a half later, having scored 1 basket in the tournament, and no points tonight.
And unlike Sunday night, when Oregon St. despite blowing Middle Tennessee out 55-36, was also in foul trouble, a result of a number of questionable calls the Rueck and many other were incensed at, tonight's calls, and the imbalance, were not at all problematical; they were a product of a more experienced, and more athletic South Carolina squad.
But if that seemed like the cue for South Carolina to blow Oregon St. out, it didn't happen, at least initially.
Gabriella Hanson, who had a good tournament for Oregon St. scored back to back baskets to make it a 10 point game with still 10 1/2 minutes to go.
South Carolina answered with an 8-0 run to open the largest lead of the game, going up 55-37 on another Mitchell 3 pointer, as Oregon St. suffered through a 4 1/2 minute scoring drought.
But Hanson stopped the run, and though Welch, having hit 8 of her first 11 shots, continued to lead the Gamecocks with her team high 21 points, Weisner also reached the 21 point level, which would lead the Beavers, and match Welch for co-game high scoring honors, hit a 3 pointer to pull Oregon St. back within 64-51 with 2 1/2 minutes to go.
Gibson's 2 + 1 made it 66-54 with 1:40 to go, and Wiese finally found the range, making her first basket on her 13th shot of the game, and 11th from 3 point range, to cut the deficit to single digits with 1 1/2 minutes to go.
Weisner fouled out with just over a minute to go, but Wiese sank another 3, and had South Carolina not sank a dozen free throws in 90 seconds, the Oregon St. rally might have been able to exert some pressure on the Gamecocks.
But without Hamblin, and Hunter much of the time, South Carolina finished with 3 players with double figure rebounds, and that contributed to being able to get to the free throw line time and time again.
Oregon St. looked like a team with only 1 senior, and only 2 players who aren't freshmen or sophomores. The Beavers had trouble controlling the pace, and as a result, South Carolina was able to pressure Oregon St. into playing with less discipline than normal, especially for about the first 2/3 of the game.
The Gamecocks didn't necessarily look like the 1 seed in the West, but they did look like about the 8th ranked team in the country, and played with a level of poise that the young Beavers should learn from. Not a lot of teams would have been able to prevent a run when Oregon St. cut the deficit to single digits 7 times, but South Carolina was unphased, and closed out the 9 point win.
Still, it was a good way to salvage some momentum heading into the offseason for the Beavers.
"I couldn't be prouder of how they fought, and never quit, and how far they came this season," Rueck said.
In addition to Weisner's 21 points, Hanson finished with 16, and Gibson 11. Gibson just missed a double double, with a team high 9 reboungs.
Wiese finished with 8 points, after being shut out for 38 1/2 minutes, and shot 3 of 15 for the game, and only 2 of 12 from 3 point range.
The Beavers as a team shot 10 of 30 from 3 point range, and actually out-shot the Gamecocks, making 25 of 65 shots, 39%, compared to 20 of 54, 37%, for South Carolina. And the Gamecocks only took 6 3 pointers, making 4.
But Oregon St.'s 9 of 18 free throw shooting, which was well below normal percentage wise, as well as in total compared to the 79% the 34 of 43 trips to the free throw line produced, didn't come close to getting the job done.
In addition to Welch's 21 point, 11 rebound double double, Mitchell bounced back with a huge second half when South Carolina needed it, and finished with a 20 point, 10 rebound double double.
Alaiwa Coates, the SEC Freshman of the Year, just missed a double double, with 11 rebounds and 9 points.
South Carolina improved to 29-4, and will advance to Palo Alto, to play North Carolina in the Stanford Regional, after the Tar Heels downed Michigan St. 62-53. The winner will get the winner of the Stanford-Penn St. game, as the regional will contain 3 teams that defeated Oregon St. this season.
Oregon St. finished 24-11, matching the program high in wins only equaled by the 1982-83 team that was also the only Beaver team to reach the "Sweet 16" the wonder kids came up just short of.
With 10 players returning, the seasoning the 3-2 post-season produced sets the table for a good chance at another similar run next season.