Aliyah Boston leads South Carolina back to Final Four with 'unfinished business' after rout of Creighton

GREENSBORO, N.C. -- Aliyah Boston and South Carolina checked one goal off their list on Sunday night.

The biggest one lies ahead.

Though Boston had her double-double streak snapped, her 19 points led the way in helping No. 1 overall seed South Carolina handle No. 10 seed Creighton 80-50 to clinch a spot in the Final Four for the second straight season.

This Final Four appearance is one Boston in particular has worked for since the Gamecocks' semifinal loss to Stanford last year, when she missed a shot at the buzzer that would have taken them into the national title game. South Carolina coach Dawn Staley and the rest of the team have spoken openly about how much they all wanted to return to the Final Four to get another shot at winning a championship.

Most especially Boston.

Now they have it. As the final seconds ticked off the clock on Sunday, Boston raised her arms in the air, did a little dance and screamed, "Let's go!" Following the postgame handshake line, players ran over to dance and celebrate with the South Carolina band, and soon Boston joined them after doing her postgame ESPN interview.

"It's exciting, but we just said in the locker room we still have unfinished business and we still have two more games to play," Boston said.

Indeed, "unfinished business" seemed to be the theme postgame. Staley mentioned the pressure this team has faced throughout the course of the season, understanding the big goal the Gamecocks had set for themselves. With another Final Four appearance as the favorite to win, the pressure is only sure to grow.

But Staley said her players fully understand what that means as they head into the biggest game of their season.

"We've created habits all season long," Staley said. "The habits that we've had, I don't think we'll stray too far from it. We got a core group of players who just want to win, so I think they have a really good pulse on our team, and they're able to calm things down when needed.

"This year has been one in which we had a target out there -- not a target on our back -- we had a target out there to win a national championship. And we put ourselves in this position, and I think win, lose or draw, it won't be from not trying as hard as they can."

Although Boston did not have a double-double for the first time in 27 consecutive games, her presence inside the paint caused major issues for the much smaller Bluejays. In order to try to slow down the Gamecocks, Creighton knew it would have to try to make life as uncomfortable as possible for Boston and the post players inside, while relying on its ability to make 3-pointers.

Easier said than done against the leading candidate for player of the year. South Carolina finished with 42 points in the paint, the 13th time it had 40 or more this season -- the most in the SEC. Eight of Boston's nine field goal attempts in the game came from inside the paint.

Victaria Saxton, often overlooked for the role she plays inside with Boston, finished with 11 points and 11 rebounds. In addition to the scoring, South Carolina used its height advantage to outrebound Creighton 43-23 -- limiting the Bluejays to just four second-chance points.

"I feel like there were times where we had all five blue jerseys in the paint going after boards and they still somehow came out with the rebound," said Creighton guard Lauren Jensen, who led the Bluejays with 12 points. "So that was kind of a struggle for us tonight."

Meanwhile, the suffocating South Carolina defense shut down the 5-out offense Creighton plays and limited the 3-point attempts. Creighton went into Sunday's contest averaging 10 made 3-pointers per game. But Creighton went 7-of-21 against the Gamecocks, and as South Carolina kept growing its lead, the Bluejays seemed powerless to stop it.

To be sure, the run Creighton made to get to this point was historic. The Bluejays upset three higher-seeded teams on the way to their first Elite Eight appearance, and they became just the fourth double-digit seed to make it to the Elite Eight.

But the game got out of hand early. Boston made it look easy in the first half, with 12 of her 14 first-half points coming in the paint. South Carolina finished the first half with 30 total points in the paint, its most in a half in the NCAA tournament this year. South Carolina went into halftime with a 46-25 lead and never looked back.

"We just seemed a little hesitant," Creighton coach Jim Flanery said. "But I thought we had a better game plan setup than what I witnessed the first half. And that happens sometimes. You think you've gone over it and told them exactly what they need to do, but, again, with one-day prep, I just felt like we were a little erratic in terms of our understanding of where we needed to be."

Next up, the Gamecocks will play the winner of Monday night's Elite Eight game between Louisville and Michigan on Friday in Minneapolis, with the possibility of a rematch against Stanford looming -- only this time, in the national championship game.

"You got some young players who have no clue what it means to go to a Final Four," Staley said. "We'll probably have to hold them back a little bit because they just don't know the whole excitement of it. And then you have some older players who have been here before, and they have one thing on their mind and that is to win a national championship -- and we do it game by game.

"It was pressure-packed the entire season, and it's a relief to know that we're back and now we can settle in and try to get this thing done."