Cardoso, Johnson help South Carolina remain perfect with 79-75 win over spirited Indiana in Sweet 16

Indiana forward Lilly Meister (52) drives the ball against South Carolina forward Chloe Kitts (21) and guard Bree Hall (23) during the first quarter of a Sweet Sixteen round college basketball game during the NCAA Tournament, Friday, March 29, 2024, in Albany, N.Y. (AP Photo/Hans Pennink)

Indiana forward Lilly Meister (52) drives the ball against South Carolina forward Chloe Kitts (21) and guard Bree Hall (23) during the first quarter of a Sweet Sixteen round college basketball game during the NCAA Tournament, Friday, March 29, 2024, in Albany, N.Y. (AP Photo/Hans Pennink)

ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) — With South Carolina’s perfect season on the line, coach Dawn Staley had total faith that Raven Johnson would make the necessary plays for her team.

Johnson did just that, hitting a huge 3-pointer in the final minute to help the top-seeded Gamecocks remain unbeaten with a 79-75 over Indiana on Friday that moved them into the Albany 1 Regional Final of the women’s NCAA Tournament.

“I saw Raven’s eyes coming down the stretch as our lead was diminishing and I knew she wasn’t going to let us lose,” Staley said. “She was going to do something. She had two big baskets.”

Johnson’s 3 came after South Carolina nearly blew a 22-point lead in the second half. The advantage was down to 74-72 when Staley called timeout to set up a play that was supposed to go to Kamilla Cardoso, who led the team with 22 points. The Gamecocks’ star center was being double-teamed when she caught the ball, so she passed it to Johnson for the 3.

“I was open, and all I could think was, let it go. I don’t want to lose,” said Johnson, who scored 14 points. “Just going from last year. Nobody can sag off me this year, and I take that very personal. And I get in the gym every day and put up reps and I think that’s where it comes from, the confidence.”

Last season, Iowa sagged off Johnson in the Final Four and the strategy paid off as the Hawkeyes ended South Carolina’s undefeated season. Johnson got in the gym and became a better 3-pointer shooter this season, hitting 8% more of her shots from behind the arc.

“I see the work that Raven puts in every single day. Every single day she gets shots up, before or after practice,” Staley said. “They have a quota to meet each and every day. I see that before. I see that after. So I don’t think about last year. I don’t think about any of that when it comes to Raven.”

South Carolina is three wins away from completing the 10th perfect season in NCAA Division I women’s basketball history. Next up for the Gamecocks is third-seeded Oregon State, which knocked off Notre Dame earlier Friday.

The Gamecocks (35-0) had run through their first two games in March Madness, winning by 52 and 47. They faced a much bigger challenge from fourth-seeded Indiana (26-6).

South Carolina built a 22-point lead in the third quarter before Indiana got going behind Sydney Parrish, who led the team with 21 points.

The Hoosiers, who were trying to pull off the biggest comeback in NCAA Tournament history, got within 74-72 on Mackenzie Holmes’ layup with 1:08 left. That’s when Johnson responded with her 3.

Holmes then hit another layup to make it 77-74.

The Gamecocks hit only two of four free throws in the final 21 seconds to leave the door open for a miraculous comeback, but Indiana couldn’t convert on the offensive end, missing two contested 3-pointers in the final 15 seconds.

“We’re very disappointed. Felt like if we had a few more minutes the outcome would be a little different for us tonight,” Indiana coach Teri Moren said.

South Carolina looked like it was going to steamroll another opponent. It led 34-28 midway through the second quarter before going on a 15-4 run to close the half up 49-32. All but two of those points came on the inside.

On the defensive end, Cardoso bottled up Holmes. She missed her first five shots before finally hitting a runner with less than a minute to go in the half. Holmes finished with 12 points.

The lead ballooned to 22 points early in the third quarter before the Hoosiers used a 10-0 run to get within 61-50 with just over three minutes left in the period. After the Gamecocks extended the advantage back to 15, Indiana closed within 65-55 at the end of the period.

KEY STATS

Behind Cardoso, the Gamecocks outscored the Hoosiers 42-26 in the paint. South Carolina’s bench outscored Indiana’s 23-2.

UP NEXT

South Carolina plays Oregon State, which it beat 59-42 in the second round of the NCAA Tournament three years ago.

___

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

Sports Headlines

Copyright 2024 Nexstar Media Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed AP

Trending on NewsNation