CHARLOTTE — It hasn’t been easy being Ty Harris. A freshman point guard on what would become a national championship team, Harris had to deal with being the rookie surrounded by otherworldly talent, not to mention the constant laser-focused pressure of playing for a coach regarded as the best point guard who ever played.
There were lots of bumps. Dips. Dizzying highs and devastating lows. And hesitation, gobs of hesitation.
“Ty’s only played with Alaina Coates and Kaela Davis and A’ja Wilson, so she defers in those instances,” coach Dawn Staley said after South Carolina topped Florida State 72-64 Sunday for her seventh Sweet 16 berth in eight years. “I was happy that she progressed in that moment to take that moment on.”
With USC ahead one point with 30 seconds to play and unable to get a rebound, Harris made sure the Seminoles wouldn’t get another second chance. Her drive from the top of the key resulted in a layup and a foul, where she also aced the free throw to put FSU away.
“It was still supposed to be my play, we was supposed to run Miami Vice,” Harris said, as Staley exasperatedly looked at her for revealing the name of the play.
“We still executed it,” Harris told Staley. “Don’t worry.”
The Gamecocks (23-9) may have to re-name it next week when they play Baylor or California in Greensboro in the Sweet 16, but if the result is the same, they’ll take it. USC broke a tie game with 2:30 to go, twice answered when the Seminoles cut the deficit to one and finally got a rebound after Florida State owned the glass 50-33, including an unsightly 27 offensive boards.
“We just needed to secure the ball and go down to the other end to shoot free throws,” said sophomore Bianca Jackson, who was first on the floor to get a carom before Te’a Cooper ran over to help. Cooper was credited with the board and made one of two free throws in the final seconds, giving USC a comfortable cushion.
The Gamecocks, in a year where inconsistency was the biggest theme, are back in the round of 16.
“It’s about sustaining, it’s about keeping your program in a place where you’re competing for national championships,” Staley said. “When you have that in front of you, it certainly feels good, for our former players, our current players and our future players.”
* Mikiah Herbert Harrigan missed the first half of a first-round win over Belmont because she crossed a line. Staley wouldn’t say exactly what it was, only that it was very minor, but she felt the need to stress the point and “get Kiki’s mind right.”
Herbert Harrigan responded with five points and three blocks in 10 minutes against the Bruins and a team-high 20 points, six rebounds, three blocks and two steals against FSU.
“They’re young people, and sometimes young people don’t see the severity of what they do, and what they did is minimum,” Staley said. “For us, we have to do things the right way, and when we do things the right way, we win the right way.”
* Cooper had 10 of her 13 points in the first quarter. Alexis Jennings scored the first six points of the fourth when it was a one-point game to start the period.
Thirty-two games in, USC is finally showing a range of consistent offensive sets.
* Freshman Victaria Saxton also had a key rebound, finding a Harris missed layup at the rim and getting a second try up just before the shot clock expired. She was fouled on the play and swished two free throws for a three-point lead with 1:23 to go.
Saxton was shooting 58 percent from the line before those tries.
* The Seminoles only shot 35.5 percent from the field, which was stunning considering they had 27 offensive rebounds and 19 second-chance points.
The Gamecocks simply couldn’t get to the loose balls and gave up second, third and fourth chances. It was a big reason why a nine-point third-quarter lead disappeared in less than five minutes.
“As far as the offensive rebounds, it was epidemic. It got to a point where we called timeout and there was 2:30 left on the clock,” Staley said. “I told them, ‘Forget about what took place, let’s win, let’s get every rebound from this 2:30 on.”
The Gamecocks gave up three more, but it wasn’t enough for the Seminoles to get ahead.
Third time still isn’t the charm
The Gamecocks beat the Seminoles in the postseason for the third time in five years.
The Gamecocks play the Baylor-California winner at a time to be determined on Saturday in Greensboro, N.C.