ALBANY – They hung around the defending national champs, giving them fits all day long. But South Carolina's post play was too much for the University at Buffalo.
The Gamecocks scored 52 of their points in the paint in a 79-63 win over Buffalo in the Sweet 16 in Times Union Center Saturday and outrebounded the Bulls, 48-21.
Cierra Dillard finished with 29 points while the Bulls scored 26 points off 26 South Carolina turnovers.
Likely National Player of the Year A'ja Wilson had 20 points and 13 rebounds for the Gamecocks.
Crazy end to the third: South Carolina would pull away throughout the game, but couldn't put away Buffalo.
The Gamecocks led by as many as 12 in the third quarter as the Bulls went through an 0-for-6 stretch. But Buffalo got a bucket from Mariah Suchan, then a defensive stop and a picture perfect pass from Dillard to Stephanie Reid for a layup.
Another defensive stop for the Bulls led Dillard to chuck a shot from just past half court. She was hammered and after review, the officials ruled it was before the buzzer. She went to the free throw line and made two of three to pull the Bulls within seven, 55-48.
Fourth quarter: Another beautiful pass from Dillard set up Autumn Jones for a layup to open the scoring in the final period, cutting the lead to five, 55-50.
The Bulls were still within five on a Dillard bucket, 57-52, but shortly after that Summer Hemphill (Cardinal O'Hara) fouled out, giving Wilson a three-point play and the Gamecocks took steam out of Buffalo's run.
At the media time out with 4:49 left in the game, South Carolina had a 66-56 lead.
Taking a lead: After a slow start to the game on offense, the Bulls found a groove. With 5:21 left in the first, Hemphill hit a layup to give the Bulls their first lead, 7-6. A 3-pointer from Dillard gave Buffalo a quick 10-6 lead capping a 7-0 run.
First quarter: Dillard had 13 points in the opening 10 minutes as the Bulls took a 17-16 lead. Fueling Buffalo was its defense, turning eight South Carolina turnovers into 10 points.
South Carolina pulls head: An 11-1 run by the Gamecocks gave them a 35-26 lead. South Carolina dominated the post play in the second quarter.
With 26 points in the paint, including 11 second-chance points, in the opening 20 minutes the Gamecocks created some scoring space. But the Bulls didn't go away, and Stephanie Reid hit a 3-pointer in the closing seconds of the half to pull Buffalo within nine, 40-31, at the break.
All she wrote: It was the last game for five Buffalo seniors including point guard Reid, guards Liisa and Katherine Ups, center Cassie Oursler (Grand Island), and forward Suchan.
Up next: The Bulls end their season with a program-best 29-6 record. South Carolina improves to 29-6 and will play the winner of today's second regional semifinal here, UConn-Duke, in Monday night's regional final.