There was an aimless walk and circle back to the huddle. Oregon State sophomore Ruth Hamblin was called for her fifth foul with 13:01 left in the NCAA tournament second-round game at Alaska Airlines Arena.
The call ended a frustrating seven minutes to open the second half for Hamblin, a 6-foot-6 center, and OSU. The Beavers missed 10 shots — three open looks for Hamblin within 10 feet of the hoop. She blocked two shots but couldn’t fill in the gaps the Beavers needed. Especially with freshman point guard Sydney Wiese, the team’s leading scorer, going 0 for 11 from the field.
With Hamblin on the bench, Wiese scoreless and the Beavers down 14 points, South Carolina’s surge simply washed over Oregon State, resulting in a 78-69 victory Tuesday. South Carolina, the top seed in the Stanford region, advances to play North Carolina in the Sweet 16 on Sunday at Maples Pavilion.
“There were times were you think, ‘We can play with that team,’ ” said OSU coach Scott Rueck, whose team ended the regular season on a nine-game winning streak to help earn an NCAA automatic bid and a No. 9 seed.
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“As soon as you get close, they hit a different gear,” Rueck continued about SC. “That’s what’s special about this group.”
The victory prevented a second consecutive second-round exit for the Gamecocks (29-4). On the same day last year, a fourth-seeded South Carolina, full of promise, was upset by No. 12 seed Kansas.
Sophomore guard Tiffany Mitchell was part of that disappointing defeat. Tuesday, she was scoreless in the opening half.
No one needed to say anything to Mitchell, the Southeastern Conference player of the year.
“Tiffany was talking to herself throughout the second half,” South Carolina coach Dawn Staley said. “So, no one really said anything to her. She was actually answering her own questions.”
“If you home in on me on the court, you can see me talking to myself,” Mitchell said of the barrage of affirmations ranging from “Stay in it Tiff” to “Concentrate. Focus.”
Mitchell’s constant chatter materialized into 20 second-half points, making both of her three-pointers and shooting 10 for 10 from the foul line. She also finished with 10 rebounds and four assists.
South Carolina is advancing to its second Sweet 16 in the past three years. OSU, which Sunday won its first NCAA tournament game since 1995, hasn’t advanced to the Sweet 16 since 1983.
“It’s very sweet,” Mitchell said about advancing. The matchup between South Carolina (29-4) and fourth-seed UNC (26-9) is a rematch from the Gamecocks’ 74-66 loss in Chapel Hill in December.
Wiese finally made a three-pointer with 1:32 remaining in the game and two free throws from guard Jamie Weisner (Clarkston High) trimmed the lead to 68-59 with 1:20 left. Mitchell helped closed out the victory at the foul line, however, by making six of the team’s final 10 free throws.
South Carolina junior Aleighsa Welch led her team with 21 points and 11 rebounds.
Weisner led OSU with 21 points, making 5 of 9 three-pointers, before fouling out with 1:03 left in the matchup.
Wiese was upbeat despite the OSU loss, the Beavers tying a program-best season record at 24-11. The young point guard was 2 for 12 from three-point range and finished with eight points but also had six assists in 40 minutes.
She preferred to focus on the lesson from the game. So did her coach.
“Losing is the greatest teacher,” Rueck said. “I’m motivated right now.”
Jayda Evans: 206-464-2067 or firstname.lastname@example.org.