Sioux Falls, S.D. — Syracuse coach Quentin Hillsman delivered a direct message to Brianna Butler at halftime.
“You’ve got to hit some shots,” he told his star guard, “or we’re going home.”
Butler hit some shots, all right, and Syracuse is staying another couple days in South Dakota after upsetting No. 1 seed South Carolina 80-72 in the Sioux Falls Regional semifinal of the women’s NCAA Tournament on Friday night.
Butler scored 10 of her 18 points in the fourth quarter, including the go-ahead 3-pointer with 3:01 left, to send the fourth-seeded Orange to a regional final for the first time. They’ll play Tennessee on Sunday.
Syracuse trailed by 13 late in the first half and was still down 11 in the middle of the third quarter before coming back to stun a Gamecocks team that looked destined to make another appearance in the Final Four. South Carolina got into early foul trouble and never could finish off the Orange.
“Even though we did get the lead, we were just off,” South Carolina coach Dawn Staley said. “We were just not in sync. They did a good job at winning the game.”
Alexis Peterson scored 25 points to lead the Orange (28-7), who won for the 14th time in 15 games. Brittney Sykes added 17 and Briana Day had 13 rebounds.
Alaina Coates had 18 points and 16 rebounds for South Carolina (33-2), whose only other loss was to UConn. A’ja Wilson had 15 points and 10 rebounds, and Tina Roy added 17 points off the bench for the Gamecocks.
Butler, the NCAA active leader in career 3-pointers, made just six of her last 35 attempts from beyond the arc coming into the game, and she got off to a slow start against the Gamecocks. Her pull-up jumper tied it at 61, and her 3-pointer gave the Orange the lead for good after Coates converted an entry pass from Tiffany Mitchell for a two-point lead. Butler’s last 3-pointer made it 74-68 with 1:11 left.
“I have to give the credit to my teammates and coaches,” Butler said. “They gave me the confidence to come out in the second half and fire. Lex told me they’re going to fall. Even Coach gave me the confidence. Even if I was missing, he wanted me to keep shooting.”
The Orange’s zone defense sagged on star post players Wilson and Coates, giving Roy, Mitchell and Bianca Cuevas open looks from the perimeter. The Gamecocks attempted a season-high 32 3-pointers, but made only eight.
“When we were going through our scout, (Hillsman) said to limit their touches on the inside,” Sykes said. “They’re going to find a way to get the ball inside, and we had to limit that and guard the perimeter to the best of our ability.”
Wilson, Coates and Sarah Imovbioh were a combined 17 for 22 from the field — a telling statistic, Staley said.
“We took the bait,” she said. “Our post players are 17 for 22 from the floor, 41 points. Shooting at that percentage, we should have been trying to get that ball inside a lot more than we did.”
The Gamecocks came in concerned about dealing with a pressing Syracuse defense that had been forcing 24.5 turnovers a game, most of any team in the country. The press was hardly a factor.
But with Peterson giving the Orange consistent scoring and Butler ramping up her offense late, the Orange were able to pull off their biggest win ever and avenge the loss to the Gamecocks that ended their season in 2015.
After the final buzzer, Peterson went to midcourt and took a bow, and then Day picked her up and carried her to where their teammates were celebrating.
More Sioux Falls Regional
No. 7 Tennessee 78, No. 3 Ohio State 62: Mercedes Russell scored a career-high 25 points and grabbed 15 rebounds and Tennessee continued its surprising run. The Lady Vols (22-13), who upset No. 2 seed Arizona State last Sunday, beat the No. 3 Buckeyes (26-8) to reach the Elite Eight for the fifth time in six years. They’ll play Sunday against No. 4 Syracuse, which stunned top-seeded South Carolina 80-72 in the first semifinal.
Russell and fellow post player Bashaara Graves combined to make their first 13 shots from the field before Russell missed a tough one in the middle of the third quarter. The two combined for 22 of the Lady Vols’ first 28 points as they got out to a 43-35 halftime lead.
Ameryst Alston led the Buckeyes with 21 points and Kelsey Mitchell had 20 while playing all 40 minutes.
No. 7 Washington 85, (at) No. 3 Kentucky 72: Talia Walton scored 30 points, and Chantel Osahor had 19 points and 17 rebounds in a regional semifinal. Kelsey Plum added 23 points, seven assists and six rebounds to help Washington reach its first regional final since 2001. The Huskies (25-10) will seek their first Final Four appearance in school history Sunday when they face No. 4 seed Stanford in the regional final
Washington has shown a knack for delivering in hostile territory. The Huskies followed their second-round upset of No. 2 seed Maryland on the Terrapins’ home floor by surprising the Wildcats at Rupp Arena.
Makayla Epps scored 30 points for Kentucky (25-8). Evelyn Akhataor had 10 points and 14 rebounds, and Alexis Jennings added 12 points and 10 rebounds.
No. 4 Stanford 90, No. 1 Notre Dame 84: Erica McCall scored a career-high 27 points and Stanford ended the Fighting Irish’s bid for a sixth straight Final Four appearance. Stanford (27-7) advanced to the regional final Sunday against No. 7 seed Washington. Stanford beat Washington during the regular season and lost to the Huskies in the Pac-12 Tournament.
After trailing by as many as 15 points, Notre Dame (33-2) cut it to 81-78 on Madison Cable’s basket with 2:05 left. Stanford’s Karlie Samuelson, who scored 18 points, answered by banking in a 3-pointer as the shot clock was expiring with 1:31 remaining.
Stanford stayed ahead by at least four the rest of the way.
Lindsay Allen scored 20 points for Notre Dame.