SAN ANTONIO (AP) – Haley Jones scored 24 points, including the go-ahead jumper with 32 seconds left, to help Stanford beat South Carolina 66-65 on Friday night and advance to the women’s NCAA Tournament championship game. It’s Stanford’s first trip to the title game since 2010, also in San Antonio. The Cardinal lost to UConn in that contest, 53-47.
The Cardinal (30-2) will play the winner of UConn and Arizona for the title on Sunday night. Coach Tara VanDerveer will be looking for her third national championship at the school and first since 1992. Trailing 65-64 with 32 seconds left, Jones hit a jumper from the corner off a rebound that gave the Cardinal a one-point lead.
“I just saw the ball bouncing around, and most of my teammates were hitting some bodies to open it up. I just let it fly, and I said, ‘Please, Jesus, go in,’ and it did,” Jones said. “And then we just had to go on to the next play; there’s no time to get hyped about, we had to get back on defense.”
Aliyah Boston had her shot blocked but got her own rebound. Then, with 15 seconds left, Destanni Henderson threw a pass that was stolen by Ashten Prechtel.
After inbounds, Cameron Brink lost the ball at midcourt to Boston, giving South Carolina a chance. Brea Beal missed a driving layup, and Boston’s putback at the buzzer also was off the rim, sending the Cardinal onto the court to celebrate. “Bre had a great shot. Aliyah, we should’ve boxed her out; she had a great shot, thankfully, it didn’t go in, and we’re moving on to Sunday,” Jones said.
Jones and Fran Belibi ran to Boston, who was still standing under the basket, and both embraced her with a long hug; Henderson had scored six consecutive points to give the Gamecocks (26-5) a 65-64 lead with 38.8 seconds left. She had a three-point play and a 3-pointer.
Zia Cooke finished with 25 points to lead South Carolina.
Trailing 15-6 midway through the first quarter, Stanford scored the last nine points to tie the game into the second. The Gamecocks missed their final six shots of the quarter and were scoreless for the final 4:48. “We know basketball teams have run, so we can’t let that first quarter or the first five minutes dictate the whole game,” said Stanford‘s Lexie Hull, who had 18 points and 13 rebounds. The drought continued in the second quarter as the Gamecocks missed their first five shots and didn’t hit a field goal until Zia Cooke’s 3-pointer in the quarter made it 22-20. She had hit the previous basket nearly 9 1/2 minutes earlier.
The Cardinal had outscored the Gamecocks 16-2 since the early deficit.
Stanford led 31-25 at the half as Prechtel picked up where she left off from the win over Louisville in the Elite Eight. She had 16 points in the second half to help the Cardinal rally beat Louisville. She had seven in the opening 20 minutes against South Carolina.
Boston had a solid first half with seven points, nine rebounds, and four blocks for the Gamecocks. She finished with 11 points, 16 rebounds, and four blocks.
Brink came into the game banged up after tweaking her leg in the Elite Eight win over Louisville. She had six points and six blocks.
Jones hit the first 3-pointer of the second half for Stanford to break the record for most 3-pointers in the NCAA Tournament. That was the Cardinal’s 55th in the five games, giving them one more than UConn had in 2015.
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