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No. 1 South Carolina follows men's team, reaches Final Four

NCAA Florida St South_Stew.jpg
South Carolina's A'ja Wilson smiles after the Gamecocks beat Florida State, 71-64, in the regional final game of the women's NCAA college basketball tournament, Monday, March 27, 2017, in Stockton, Calif. (AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli)

Before they climbed the ladder to take their turn cutting the nets, Kaela Davis and A'ja Wilson started dancing. And dancing. The band blared inches away, and they danced some more.

A spectacular, spontaneous moment for South Carolina's two biggest stars: one headed to her first Final Four, and the other going back to chase the school's first NCAA championship.

"It was just one of those in-the-moment things, having fun. We love our band," Davis said.

Moments before tipoff, Wilson pulled Bianca Cuevas-Moore into a quick embrace, then South Carolina's 6-foot-5 center began the night by winning the opening jump and the Gamecocks were on their way to the Final Four, holding off Florida State 71-64 on Monday to win the Stockton Regional.

Most Outstanding Player Davis scored immediately off the tip and again with a timely left-handed drive with 1:42 to go on the way to 23 points. Wilson finished with 16 despite foul trouble and Allisha Gray acrobatically drove her way to 11 points for top-seeded South Carolina (31-4). Dawn Staley's Gamecocks are back in the Final Four for the first time since 2015 determined to bring home a title.

And — wow! — South Carolina is hoops country for the moment. The men's program reached its first Final Four with a victory against Florida on Sunday that sent the women screaming in delight at Stockton Arena all the way across the country from the victory at Madison Square Garden.

"We'd also like to congratulate our men's basketball team, because we're coming to join you!" Staley told the crowd, then later pulled down the net and showed it off to both sides of the arena.

Leticia Romero cut the South Carolina lead to five on a driving jumper with 3:51 left. Then Brittany Brown's steal and layup at 3:25 made it 65-62, but the rally fizzled from there for the third-seeded Seminoles (28-7).

After the buzzer sounded, the Gamecocks hustled together for a team hug, and then danced at midcourt sporting fresh "CUT THE NET" T-shirts and Final Four hats.

Tyasha Harris added 16 points for South Carolina, which made things uncomfortable all game for Romero. The Spanish star had 16 points on 6-for-23 shooting as Florida State fell short once more of the program's first Final Four.

The Seminoles shot 36.6 percent (26 for 71).

"We just didn't hit shots. That was the big bottom line," coach Sue Semrau said. "You have to put the ball in the basket."

Davis, daughter of former NBA player Antonio Davis, delivered on both ends. She shot 10 for 15 and is headed to her Final Four debut on Friday against Stanford. She transferred from Georgia Tech for the chance to do something special.

"The end goal is just to get to the Final Four," she said. "It makes it 10 times better to say you want to do something and accomplish it."

Two power programs from the South that scrimmaged together the past two preseasons faced off way out West in Northern California, a rematch of South Carolina's six-point Elite Eight win against the Seminoles two years ago in Greensboro.

This one was plenty entertaining, too — from big plays to a nail-biting final few minutes.

BIG PICTURE

Florida State: Florida State forced 23 turnovers two days earlier and 18 more Monday. ... It again played strong perimeter defense with the Gamecocks going 3 for 10 on 3s after the Seminoles held Oregon State to 2 for 17 on 3-pointers. ... No women's team from Florida has reached the Final Four.

South Carolina: Wilson got her fourth foul with 5:16 left and stayed in the game. ... South Carolina made 16 of 20 free throws after converting 18 of 19 from the line in a 100-58 rout of 12 seed Quinnipiac on Saturday.

UP NEXT

South Carolina will face Lexington Regional winner Stanford (32-5) on Friday at the Final Four in Dallas. Staley starred for Hall of Fame Cardinal coach Tara VanDerveer on the gold-medal winning 1996 Atlanta Olympic team and asked Stanford's coach to speak to her team following a 70-32 whipping by Stanford in November 2010 at Maples Pavilion. "As a coach you want to coach against the best," Staley said.

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