South Carolina established its All-America Aliyah Boston in the post to take control in the second half, but she made her presence felt primarily with rebounding early in a game much closer than expected on the glass. The Gamecocks led the nation with a plus-17.9 rebounding margin this season, but they won the battle of the boards only 36-33. It's a good thing Boston accounted for 18 rebounds to go with her team-high 23 points. No other South Carolina player had more than three rebounds. Boston's offensive rebound and putback plus drawing a foul early in the third quarter was a statement play, one that also gave Louisville's Emily Engstler her third foul. It was the fourth time this season Boston grabbed 18 or more rebounds in a game, and the second time in the NCAA tournament. The 6-5 junior and national player of the year owned North Carolina inside with 28 points and 22 rebounds in the Sweet 16.
Limiting Van Lith
South Carolina coach Dawn Staley's game plan to use Brea Beal's size at over 6 feet tall on Louisville's top scoring threat disrupted the 5-7 Hailey Van Lith. Two of Beal's three blocks came in the first couple minutes to bring on the intimidation factor. Van Lith didn't score her first basket until 1:43 remained in the first half. The Cardinals' record for consecutive 20-point games was already set by Van Lith, who had four straight entering Friday. But she scored only nine points on 4-for-11 shooting in the semifinals. Her first three-pointer of the game didn't come until 35 seconds to play with her team trailing by 15 points.
Engstler, Louisville's 6-1 forward, at one point was battling inside with South Carolina players listed at 6-5, 6-4 and 6-7. She outhustled all of them to the ball. Her contagious energy led the Cardinals on a 12-0 run to take the lead in the second quarter, but foul trouble plagued her throughout the game. The Syracuse transfer ended her night on the bench in tears with just under five minutes to play after fouling out going for a loose ball. Engstler finished with 18 points, nine rebounds and four steals, which helped her tie the single NCAA tournament record with 23 steals.
Holding down Hull
Stanford has a multitude of offensive weapons, but Lexie Hull led the team with 22 points per game in the tournament. She was scoreless in an opening quarter against Connecticut in the second semifinal that turned into the lowest-scoring quarter of the NCAAs for Tara VanDerveer's squad, with nine points on 4-for-16 from the field. Hull didn't score her first field goal until midway through the second quarter. Connecticut coach Geno Auriemma switched his defenses from zone to man-to-man to throw off the Cardinal offensive sets. Hull finished with just four points on 2-for-12 shooting from the field, including 0-for-4 from three-point range in 37 minutes. Stanford shot just 4-for-23 from beyond the arc, but it stayed within striking distance late behind Haley Jones and Cameron Brink combining for 35 points and helping the Cardinal own a 34-16 edge in points in the paint.
UConn veteran steps up
It's unlikely UConn would've advanced to its 14th straight Final Four without sophomore star Paige Bueckers, who was superb in the two-overtime win last weekend. But Auriemma looked to one of his veterans for the spark in Friday's semifinal. Senior Evina Westbrook matched her scoring average this season with nine of her 12 points on 3-for-5 shooting from three-point range in the first half. The Huskies' oldest player saw more playing time in the frontcourt, after the season-ending wrist injury to Dorka Juhasz, who was hurt in the Elite Eight. All of Westbrook's first-half points came in the second quarter when Stanford's defense converged on a driving Bueckers.