Midway through the fourth quarter, Texas coach Vic Schaefer shook his head in frustration, eyes cast down.
He’d just watched his Longhorns endure their 12th blocked shot of the game. Down by more than 20 points, they had not scored once so far in the quarter, and what had looked like it would be a rough loss was about to transition into an out-and-out rout.
No. 1 South Carolina’s defense shut down No. 6 Texas with brutal efficiency in their Elite Eight showdown Tuesday. The Gamecocks won, 62–34, after keeping the Longhorns scoreless for the entirety of the fourth quarter. For South Carolina, the country’s leader in blocks and one of its strongest rebounding teams, this display of defensive force was nothing new. But it made for a particularly strong statement to do it in the Elite Eight—especially against a Texas team that just showed off its own defensive ability in its upset of No. 2 offensive juggernaut Maryland.
“They’re just long and really quick and athletic,” said Schaefer. “They can test you in everything that you do. Whether you’re out there at three-point range or all the way at the rim, they really make it hard on you… Part of defense is contesting the shot. A lot of people don’t do that, and they do.”
South Carolina finished with 14 blocks, tied for its season high, and forced 15 turnovers. It resulted in the lowest scoring total of the year for Texas. (That distinction had previously been held by a 61–35 loss to Baylor in February.) The Longhorns looked off-balance all night—backed into corners and boxed into bad shots. They missed their last 19 field goals and posted their lowest field-goal percentage of the season at just 23%.
“We just played with our guard up,” said South Carolina sophomore Zia Cooke. “We knew that Texas was a good defensive team… Maryland was supposed to win that [Sweet 16] game, but they did, and it could have been the same for this game. We were supposed to win, but it could have gone the other way, so we just made sure we put our foot on the gas, kept our guard up, and did what we needed to do.”
It was the first time in the history of the women’s tournament that a team had been held scoreless for an entire quarter. But South Carolina coach Dawn Staley said that she didn’t even notice her squad had pulled off such a feat until she had a chance to look at the scoresheet after the celebration. “It didn’t feel like that,” she said. “We were just locked in.”
The game had been positioned as a match-up between Texas’s Charli Collier and South Carolina’s Aaliyah Boston. Both stand out as powerful 6-foot-5 forwards who average a double-double; Collier might be the No. 1 pick in the upcoming WNBA draft, and Boston, a sophomore, could eventually follow her. But Collier struggled against the Gamecocks’ physical defense and posted one of her roughest performances of the year. She scored just four points on 2-of-10 shooting.
“They guarded us like we like to guard,” said Texas’s Kyra Lambert.
Boston scored 10 points with eight rebounds. But some of South Carolina’s biggest contributions came from her teammates: Zia Cooke, who scored 16, and Laeticia Amihere, who scored 10 with nine blocks.
“I thought the moment may have gotten the best of [Boston] early on,” Staley said. “It took a while for her to settle in to be the Aaliyah that we need her to be… But Aaliyah does so many other great things. She didn’t score the ball today, but she rebounded, she defended, she was there, she was present.”
It’s the first trip to the Final Four for South Carolina since 2017. Then, they went all the way, winning a national championship by defeating a Mississippi State team coached by none other than Shaefer. (This is his first season at Texas after eight at Mississippi State.) Tuesday night's play—particularly its tough defense—reminded him of the force he saw from that team, he said.
“That’s a reflection of Dawn,” said Schaefer. “These kids really embody her… They’re an extension of her. You have to respect that.”