<
>

Analysis: South Carolina 80, FSU 74

GREENSBORO, N.C. -- Twenty-three years have passed since Dawn Staley went to the Final Four. But that's where she and top-seeded South Carolina are headed later this week.

The Gamecocks trailed much of the game, but rallied in the closing minutes to beat No. 2 seed Florida State 80-74 in the Greensboro Regional final on Sunday.

Staley went to the Final Four three years in a row, 1990 through 1992, while a player at Virginia. She had a long professional career that included three Olympic gold medals. She began her coaching career at Temple in 2000, and then took over South Carolina in 2008.

Staley joins Baylor coach Kim Mulkey as the only women in Division I history to both coach and play in the Final Four.

The Gamecocks had never advanced further than the Elite Eight, doing that once, in 2002. But under Staley, they have won or tied for the SEC regular-season title the last two years, won the SEC tournament this year, and are Final Four-bound.

Center Alaina Coates was the most outstanding player of the regional, getting 14 points on Sunday to go with her 18 in Friday's win over North Carolina.

The Gamecocks trailed 41-38 on Sunday, as they had a difficult time stopping Florida State's guard play. Both teams got big lifts off their bench in the first half. Bianca Cuevas, A'ja Wilson and Olivia Gaines combined for 21 of the Gamecocks' 38 points, while Emiah Bingley, Morgan Jones and Shakayla Thomas had 19 of Florida State's 41.

South Carolina battled back in the second half, but still trailed 60-58 after missing four consecutive free throw attempts with just more than 8 minutes left.

However, the Gamecocks defense finally came alive, and they were able to get a lead of 72-67 with 1:13 left on Tiffany Mitchell's 3-pointer. Florida State didn't let up, though, and got the score to 74-72 on Adut Bulgak's 3-pointer with 18.4 seconds left.

But Asia Dozier went 4 of 4 from the foul line in the final 17.2 seconds, and then Khadijah Sessions got a steal and layup to finish the game and start the South Carolina celebration.

Key stat: South Carolina shot 61.2 percent from the field, going 30-of-49. The Gamecocks' defense wasn't always what Staley would have wanted, but the offense saved the day.

Key stat II: South Carolina's bench scored 40 points. It's the 21st game this season the Gamecocks' reserves tied or outscored the starters.

Turning point: Mitchell had attempted just one 3-pointer and missed it. But there's a reason she has been SEC player of the year the last two seasons: She's a big-time player. Mitchell hit her second 3-point attempt, with 1:13 left in the game, and gave the Gamecocks a 72-67 lead. They were able to hold on from there, thanks to Mitchell and Dozier going 6 of 6 from the line in the last minute.

Key player: Mitchell had a game-high 21 points, along with six rebounds and five assists.

How it was won: After Aleighsa Welch tied the score at 67, Mitchell scored all of South Carolina's points in a pivotal 7-2 run, and South Carolina hit all six free throw attempts in the final 28 seconds.

What's next: South Carolina heads to the Final Four to face the winner of the Notre Dame-Baylor game.