By AARON BEARD
AP Basketball Writer
GREENVILLE, S.C. (AP) — Aaliyah Boston had eight points, 14 rebounds and two blocks while reigning national champion South Carolina turned in its latest overwhelming defense-and-rebounding-first performance to beat UCLA 59-43 on Saturday in the Sweet 16 of the women’s NCAA Tournament.
Kamilla Cardoso added 10 points for the Gamecocks (35-0), the top overall tournament seed and the headliner in the Greenville 1 Region. It marked South Carolina’s 41st consecutive victory, securing the program’s sixth trip to the Elite Eight under Dawn Staley.
The Gamecocks will play for their fifth trip to the Final Four in Monday’s regional final against 2-seed Maryland in a rematch from the season’s opening week. South Carolina won that game 81-56.
It wasn’t an easy offensive operation for South Carolina, with UCLA sagging defensively to pack the paint in hopes of negating the Gamecocks’ size advantage behind Boston. But South Carolina dominated the glass from start to finish and used its length to turn every look into a difficult one for the fourth-seeded Bruins (27-10).
South Carolina won the first meeting with UCLA 73-64 in November, with the Bruins shooting 32% in that game. Things got worse this time, with UCLA going shooting 29% — including 3 for 18 from 3-point range.
South Carolina also finished with a 42-34 rebounding advantage that narrowed late with the outcome no longer in doubt.
Charisma Osborne scored 14 points to lead UCLA, which was in the Sweet 16 for the eighth time. The Bruins were trying to reach the regional finals for the first time since 2018 and only the third time in program history while pursuing their first Final Four appearance.
But in a sign of what was to come, the Bruins kept missing shots that they needed to position themselves for a stunning upset. Worse, they failed to grab even a few of those misses to keep possessions alive early, with South Carolina going on to finish with a 15-8 edge on the offensive glass.
Meanwhile, the Gamecocks were able to just keep grinding and relying on their length. They led 25-15 at halftime before finally breaking this open by matching their game-long point total in the third quarter.
That included a couple of way-too-familiar sequences for UCLA coach Cori Close. Twice the Gamecocks managed to lob a pass inside to the 6-foot-7 Cardoso, who used her long arms to reach over 6-2 fronting defender Christeen Iwuala and snag the ball for easy under-the-rim finishes in traffic.
Or there was Brea Beal (10 points) using her right hand to tap out a loose rebound over Gabriela Jaquez before securing it, then dumping it immediately inside to Victaria Saxton inside for a soft hook as the lead steadily grew.
It was all the same often-demoralizing sequences that has overwhelmed teams all season, this time coming with the home-state Gamecocks as the main draw here in the new double-regional format.
They drew loud cheers from the crowd just for making their way into the locker-room tunnel during the Notre Dame-Maryland game with their game to follow. The roars returned as each player who lingered to wrap up pregame shootaround came off the court — several waving two arms high in acknowledgement — in a mostly full arena.
The cheers were louder, of course, as the Gamecocks spent the final minutes closing out a win to advance again.
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