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Kaela Davis helps drive South Carolina to its second Final Four

STOCKTON, Calif. -- Kaela Davis transferred for this.

A chance to scream and jump and hold up a trophy with her teammates. A chance to dance with the band. A chance to go to the Final Four.

Davis' 23-point night -- and more specifically, a huge drive to the basket with 1:39 to play in a game against Florida State that was getting entirely too tight -- set the celebration in motion at Stockton Arena on Monday, lifting the Gamecocks to a 71-64 over the Seminoles.

South Carolina is going to the Final Four for the second time in the past three years, and the junior transfer with an NBA legacy propelled them there, earning her most outstanding player honors in the process.

Davis admits there have been times it felt like a "sacrifice," leaving Georgia Tech after two years in which she became the fastest player in school history to reach 1,000 points. Georgia Tech was close to home for the Suwanee, Georgia, native. She was the unquestioned star there, taking all the shots she wanted and making plenty of them. In her first two seasons, she was on the All-ACC team.

But the daughter of former NBA star Antonio Davis wanted something a little less easy. She wanted to play to the last day of the season. She wasn't sure that could happen at Georgia Tech. After two seasons, Davis decided to transfer.

Enter South Carolina.

"That's what makes it rewarding, that I gave up something to get something else," Davis said. "I was in a situation where I knew I was going to be able to be successful, but I wanted something else."

She sat out the 2015-16 season, watched her new teammates and tried to figure out where she would fit in. And even as she joined them on the court this season, she didn't always have the answers.

She opened the season with a 37-point effort against Ohio State. Things got bumpy during the SEC season, as Davis said she worked to figure out her role.

Alaina Coates' season-ending injury has clarified things for Davis.

She is a scorer, and the Gamecocks need her offense in a smaller lineup. A lineup that was even smaller on Monday night, with A'ja Wilson in foul trouble much of the evening.

"Since we've gone to a smaller lineup, it's created more scoring opportunities for Kaela," South Carolina coach Dawn Staley said. "More driving lanes for her to get to basket, and more opportunities for her to pull up, as well. She's seeing it, and she's hitting those holes like a running back."

In addition to the power and size -- the 6-foot-2 Davis can play multiple positions -- there's a smoothness to Davis' game. She was efficient against the Seminoles, a strong and quick defensive team. She was 10-of-15 from the floor in 35 minutes.

Florida State coach Sue Semrau knows Davis' talent well from her days at Georgia Tech in the ACC.

"She wants to be a scorer, and she's an excellent scorer," Semrau said. "She knows that it's her and A'ja. I remember when she was at Georgia Tech -- she was the only one, so she would take 31 shots. Now she gets an opportunity to get great shots. She's just become much more disciplined."

Davis pushed the Gamecocks to an early lead, with 12 points at half. She worked her way into the lane and overpowered Florida State defenders to get to the rim. And late in the game, she helped calm her team as the Seminoles whittled a 16-point deficit with 5:37 left in the third quarter down to just three points in the closing moments.

Her drive with 1:39 to go pushed South Carolina up 67-62. Davis hit a big free throw with 24.5 seconds on the clock, and when Wilson blocked two shots and freshman Tyasha Harris came up with both a huge offensive rebound and a steal with 8.1 seconds to go, Davis had earned her trip to the promised land in Dallas.

"It's amazing," Davis said. "That's all I can say about it."

Staley said that Davis has been adjusting throughout the season but seems to have settled into a role that could provide the Gamecocks a huge boost as they make a run at the program's first national title. They will first have to go through Stanford on Friday (ESPN2/WatchESPN, 7:30 p.m. ET). And they might well have to figure out a way to beat Connecticut, which beat the Gamecocks 66-55 on Feb. 13. Davis hit just 1 of 10 field goal attempts and had three points in that game.

"Obviously, we wanted this all year long, but it takes some adjusting to not having the ball in your hands," Staley said. "But not having Alaina Coates puts the ball in [Davis'] hands a lot more. We got a little bit more balanced, and you know, Kaela has benefitted from it."

Davis felt the frustration midseason, when she fell into something of a scoring slump, scoring in single digits in nine SEC games.

She said one reporter asked her after a game if she was getting worried. Her honest answer was, "No."

"I felt like I had to find a way to affect the game, even if I wasn't scoring," Davis said. "I focused on defense and rebounding. I know it's a process, and I knew that my time would come."

She has averaged 19.5 points over the past six games, a run extending from the SEC tournament to Monday's regional final. After the game, she stood in her team's locker room in Stockton doing television interviews, while teammates Wilson and Allisha Gray mugged for the cameras behind her.

Another one of her teammates shouted out that she was trending on Twitter. That made her smile wide.

"It makes it 10 times better to be able to say that you want to do something and then accomplish it," Davis said. "It's been a long year, a lot of ups and downs, but I think we are finding a way to end on a high note and put everything together."