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March Madness: South Carolina overcomes sluggish start to cruise past South Florida into Sweet 16

South Carolina's not been at its best on offense in the NCAA tournament. But it's been more than good enough to advance to the Sweet 16.

The top-seeded Gamecocks overcome a sluggish start Sunday to secure a 76-45 win over No. 8 South Florida and secure their place in the tournament's second weekend.

South Florida put South Carolina to the test early, opening up a 16-12 lead while holding the Gamecocks to 35.7% shooting from the field. But the Gamecocks rode a 21-point second quarter to a 33-29 halftime edge. Then, they took over.

A team that's made a season of dominating second halves stifled the Bulls after halftime and leaned on its depth on offense to run away with the game. South Florida scored just 16 points in the second half, matching its first-quarter total. The Gamecocks limited the Bulls to 29.3% shooting from the field and forced 13 turnovers. They won the rebounding battle, 55-28.

South Carolina and guard Zia Cooke dispatched South Florida and guard Aerial Wilson in the second round of the NCAA tournament on Sunday. (Jeff Blake/USA TODAY Sports)
South Carolina and guard Zia Cooke dispatched South Florida and guard Aerial Wilson in the second round of the NCAA tournament on Sunday. (Jeff Blake/USA TODAY Sports)

With 2:10 remaining in the fourth quarter and South Carolina leading 69-40, head coach Dawn Staley emptied the bench to allow the South Carolina home crowd to give a standing ovation to its outgoing seniors in their final home game.

Aliyah Boston controlled the post while tallying 11 points, 11 rebounds, two assists, two blocks and one steal. Fellow senior Zia Cooke paced the offense with 21 points while shooting 8 of 19 from the field. Nine Gamecocks players played 15 minutes or more as the South Carolina bench proved again to be a significant edge. Senior Laeticia Amihere led the way with 10 points, six rebounds and one block off the bench, while sophomore guard Bree Hall added 7 points and six rebounds in 16 minutes.

The offense got better throughout as the Gamecocks finished shooting 42.3% from the field, an improvement over their 38.9% effort in a first-round win over No. 16 Norfolk State.

The Gamecocks improved to 34-0 as they seek a second straight national championship. The winner between No. 4 seed UCLA and No. 5 seed Oklahoma awaits next weekend.