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Women’s Final Four: South Carolina heads to its first national championship game with victory over Stanford

South Carolina's A'ja Wilson, who had 13 points

South Carolina's A'ja Wilson, who had 13 points and 19 rebounds, goes to the hoop against Stanford's Erica McCall in the first half of their national semifinal on March 31, 2017, in Dallas. Photo Credit: Getty Images / Ron Jenkins

DALLAS — For much of the night, offense was a struggle for A’ja Wilson.

The rest of her game, though, was plenty strong enough to carry South Carolina to a shot at a national championship.

The Gamecocks’ 6-5 All-America forward was held to a below-average 13 points by Stanford’s smothering array of double- and triple-teams. But as she became increasingly frustrated on the offensive end, Wilson attacked the glass — and attacked Stanford’s shooters — and willed her team to a 62-53 semifinal victory Friday night in the semifinals of the women’s Final Four.

Wilson had 19 rebounds — the second most in a national semifinal — three blocked shots, two steals and even a team-high four assists as the Gamecocks (32-4) overcame a nine-point halftime deficit.

South Carolina advances to Sunday’s title game against the winner of Friday’s late game between Connecticut and Mississippi State.

“It’s tough when you see you have three people around you and you see your teammate is open but you really just can’t get it there the way you want to,” Wilson said. “But I just kind of let the game come to me, whatever category it is on the stat sheet.

“Tonight, it was rebounding. I kind of shocked myself with that. I just goes to show you have to find a way to impact your team. I just tried to get every ball that I could . . . It gave me the momentum to say, ‘OK, we’re going to be OK,’ and just push through it.”

And it’s not like Wilson didn’t make a difference with her offense. She scored seven in the fourth quarter, including a spurt of five points and an assist in a span of 1:30 to push the Gamecocks’ lead from three to seven at 50-43 with 5:01 left.

By then, South Carolina had already taken control of the game, charging back from a 29-20 halftime deficit to grab the lead with a 13-0 run in the third quarter, during which reeling Stanford missed 15 consecutive shots.

A major part of the problem for the Cardinal (32-6) was the result of an injury to forward Karlie Samuelson, who badly twisted her ankle by stepping on the foot of South Carolina’s Bianca Cuevas-Moore midway through the second quarter.

Samuelson, who averaged 12.8 points per game, tried to play in the second half but was ineffective on both ends of the floor. She wound up with no points and only two shots in 25 minutes.

“If you told me coming into the game Karlie wouldn’t score, I’d have told you we were in real trouble,” Stanford coach Tara VanDerveer said. “We count on her to score. She’s important to us physically, psychologically, every way there is.”

New York Sports