Advertisement

South Carolina feeling more pride than pressure as they bring perfect record into the Sweet 16

ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) — South Carolina comes into its Sweet 16 matchup with No. 4 seed Indiana in Albany on Friday four wins from becoming just the 10th team in NCAA women's basketball history to put up a perfect season.

South Carolina would join UConn (which has done it six times), Tennessee (1997-98), Baylor(2011-12) and Texas (1985-86).

The Gamecocks (34-0) are 105-3 over the last three seasons and 21-1 against ranked opponents over that time.

But as they approach history, guard Te-Hina Paopao says she and her teammates are feeling more pride than pressure.

“Just being able to be the fifth (different) team to win the whole thing, go undefeated, it's something that says a lot to our program and to the culture that coach has built," she said. “There's really no pressure at all. We just keep being who we are, keep playing with a chip on shoulder and just play freely.”

Indiana (26-5), meanwhile, is relishing the role of underdog. Coach Teri Moren says her players have watched TV, read all the coverage of women's basketball and understand they are not expected to win.

But she said that had just provided them with motivation.

“I think everybody else except for South Carolina right now is the underdog because of their perfect record,” she said. “I don’t know that anybody believes that South Carolina can be beat. You can certainly use that. ... You’re playing with house money. You have nothing to lose.”

The Hoosiers are one of those programs that have actually had some recent success against South Carolina, having handed the Gamecocks their only loss during the COVID-19-shortened 2019-20 season.

It's something Dawn Staley has not forgotten, even though just one player (forward Mackenzie Holmes) remains from that Indiana team.

“I actually looked back at that box score; they scored 20 fourth quarter points. We scored six," she said. “Yikes.”

“They can be very similar in style of play,” she added. “But they can be more efficient at what they’re doing and to me that’s what Indiana is.”

Defense is expected to be the focus in other half of the Albany 1 regional where Notre Dame faces Oregon State on Friday.

The Irish (28-6) have been giving up an average of 57.5 points during their current 10-game winning streak. Oregon State (26-7) is allowing opponents just 59.3 points this season, holding Nebraska to just 51 in round two, which is 21 points below the Cornhuskers season average,

Oregon State's Talia von Oelhoffen said playing in the defensive-minded Pac 12 has helped prepare them for a team she said reminds her of league rival UCLA.

“Their four's ability to shoot and stretch the floor, and then skilled play makers, shooters kind of everywhere,” she said. “And then obviously they have a point guard that can get up and pressure similar to UCLA’s guards. That might be the closest comparison I can think of, but every team is different.”

The Irish's biggest weapon has been freshman sensation Hannah Hidalgo, who is averaging just under 23 points a game, and has become the team's leader, despite being just 19 years old.

“I think she’s the floor general when she steps on the court," forward Maddy Westbeld said. “We listen to what she says at all times during the game. She’s incredible because she leads us on the defensive end, too.”

FAR FROM HOME

Oregon State, after playing the first two rounds at home, is now playing 2,937 miles (4,726 kilometers) from Corvallis, despite the NCAA having its other super regional in Portland.

With the Pac-12's Southern Cal being a top seed and Stanford slotted as a No. 2 in the two Portland Regionals, there was no room for the Beavers out west, a mere 84 miles (135 kilometers) north of their home.

“Of course we’d love to be there, but we understand why we’re over here, and we’re going to make the most of it, and we’re excited to keep playing," von Oelhoffen said.

EVEN FARTHER FROM HOME

Indiana sophomore Yarden Garzon acknowledges it's been difficult for her to focus solely on basketball with the war going on in Gaza.

Garzon is from Ra'anana, Israel, about 14 miles (23 kilometers) north of Tel Aviv, and says she has family and friends serving in the Israel Defense Forces.

“But my teammates and the staff are doing a great job of supporting me, and they understand what I’m going through and they give me great feeling about being here and feeling like I’m part of something bigger than myself, and they are here for me for everything I need,” she said.

Garzon wears a necklace that reads “bring them home”.

“Everything I do right now is trying to raise the awareness about what’s going on in Israel with the hostages,” she continued.

___

AP March Madness bracket: https://apnews.com/hub/ncaa-womens-bracket/ and coverage: https://apnews.com/hub/march-madness