South Carolina stops FSU rally to make Final Four return

STOCKTON, Calif. -- Two years ago, South Carolina and Florida State faced off in an Elite Eight matchup, with neither of them having gone to a Final Four. The Gamecocks were the team that punched their program's first ticket to the game's biggest party.

In 2017, more than 3,000 miles from either of their home states, the two teams went at it again. For the second time, it was the Gamecocks who celebrated, holding off a late Florida State rally to win 71-64 at Stockton Arena and make the program's second trip to the national semifinals in three years.

South Carolina cruised in its Sweet 16 win over Cinderella team Quinnipiac, but this Stockton Regional final was not so easy. The Seminoles rallied from 16 points down midway through the third quarter to cut the lead to 65-62 with 3:23 to go on a layup by Brittany Brown.

From there, South Carolina held on with some big plays by freshman guard Tyasha Harris. Harris pulled down a huge offensive rebound after an Allisha Gray miss with under two minutes to go and FSU charging hard, and she came up with three late free throws and a huge steal with 8.1 seconds to go.

For Florida State, it was a second straight big-time comeback. The Seminoles rebounded from a 17-point deficit Saturday against Oregon State, but this time, they fell short with a quiet offensive game from leading scorer Shakayla Thomas.

How the game was won: Harris' steal along the sideline with 8.1 seconds to go halted any hope that Florida State would finish the big comeback. She then went to the line and hit both free throws to nail the win and the Final Four trip for her team.

Player of the game: South Carolina's Kaela Davis, the junior guard who transferred from Georgia Tech and sat out the 2015-16 season, is ready for her postseason spotlight. She followed Saturday's 28-point effort against Quinnipiac with another big game against the Seminoles. The daughter of longtime NBA star Antonio Davis finished with 23 points on 10 of 15 shooting and helped the Gamecocks advance, despite an uncharacteristically quiet game from star center A'ja Wilson.

Turning point: With the Seminoles mounting a furious comeback, the Gamecocks got a driving score from Davis with 1:39 to go that pushed them out to a 67-62 lead. Wilson came down on the other end with less than 30 seconds to go and got huge blocks -- one on a drive by Brown and another on FSU point guard Leticia Romero -- on consecutive possessions to halt FSU's progress.

Stat of the game: The Gamecocks won despite being outrebounded 18-2 on the offensive boards. Florida State's rally was built on second-chance points, as it outscored South Carolina 21-4. South Carolina definitely missed injured forward Alaina Coates in this game, as Wilson fought through foul trouble, forcing Dawn Staley to go with a smaller lineup.

X factor: Harris finished the game with a career-high 16 points, six rebounds and three steals.

What's next: South Carolina has booked a plane ticket to Dallas to face Stanford in the national semifinals. Staley will face off against her Olympic coach, Tara VanDerveer, on Friday for a trip to the national championship game. The last time South Carolina went to the Final Four, it fell to Notre Dame in the semifinals. Staley, who is now the U.S. Olympic team coach, wants a shot at playing for a title. She will have to go through an old friend to get there.