One more basket, one more rebound, one more stop, and North Carolina would still be playing.
But favored South Carolina turned out to be just that little bit better.
Tiffany Mitchell scored 18 points including the game-winning layup with five seconds left, giving the top-seeded Gamecocks a 67-65 win over the No. 4 seed Tar Heels in the regional semifinals of the NCAA women’s basketball tournament on Friday night at Greensboro Coliseum.
The result was sweet revenge for South Carolina, as UNC had ended the Gamecocks’ season in the same round of the tournament last year with a 65-58 win in Palo Alto, Calif.
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“We’re just glad to go on,” South Carolina coach Dawn Staley said. “I hate that someone had to lose, and I’m glad it wasn’t us. We’re excited to still be in the tournament.”
The Gamecocks (33-2) will play again on Sunday at noon against the winner of Friday’s late game between No. 2 seed Florida State and No. 3 seed Arizona State. Sunday’s winner will advance to the Final Four in Tampa, Fla.
UNC finished its season 26-9.
“I’m so proud of the team and these kids for the way they came together,” Tar Heel coach Sylvia Hatchell said. “The chemistry and camaraderie these kids had is what it’s all about. You don’t have to be in the Elite Eight to be champions ...
“It was a great women’s basketball game. Almost every game is like this in the ACC. And the conference season really prepared us for this game.”
Alaina Coates had 18 points and 10 rebounds for the Gamecocks, while Tina Roy chipped in 12 points.
Latifah Coleman led the Tar Heels with 15 in her final college game, while Allisha Gray had 12.
“I was thinking before the game about how it might be my last game,” said Coleman, who led her team in scoring for the second time this season. “But I thought the team really fought hard, battled hard. It was a hard one to lose. A lot of people didn’t think we’d get this far in the tournament.”
Stephanie Mavunga had 10 points and 13 rebounds for UNC, her 15th double-double of the season and the 27th of the sophomore’s career.
USC shot 43.5 percent from the floor to the Tar Heels’ 37.1 and won the rebound battle 37-36, but committed 15 turnovers to nine for UNC.
The physical contest had six ties and five lead changes.
UNC got out to a 10-3 lead behind six points from Mavunga, and was still ahead 15-7 on Gray’s drive with 10:5110 minutes, 51 seconds left in the half.
But the Gamecocks scored seven straight to tighten the margin, and took their first lead at 21-19 on Coates’ layup with 3:44 remaining in the period.
USC went up 35-27 on an Elam Ibiam jumper with 17:23 to play, but the Tar Heels responded with an 11-2 run to make it 38-37 on N’Dea Bryant’s jumper at 14:06.
The Tar Heels took the lead at 57-55 on a Jessica Washington 3-pointer at 4:55, and then went up 59-55 on a pair of Gray free throws at 4:22.
The Gamecocks tied it at 63on an Olivia Gaines 3-pointer with 1:01 to go, and then took the lead when Coates hit a pair of free throws to make it 65-63 with 46.1 to play after drawing Mavunga’s fifth foul. But Washington tied it on a layup with 28 seconds left.
“We’ve played in more physical games,” Mavunga said. “Tonight the refs let us play hard. But it wasn’t the most physical game we’ve played. We’ve had some battles with Duke and Louisville and Notre Dame. I still think we’re a great team. We just needed to win one more possession.”