Bonnie Henrickson fist-pumped in the direction of the Kansas supporters behind the bench. The Jayhawks coach shouted “Rock Chalk” to the radio crew and high-fived the band.
For the second straight year, Kansas is heading to the NCAA women’s Sweet 16 out of the lower half of the seeding. The No. 12-seed Jayhawks dispatched No. 4 seed South Carolina 75-69 Monday night behind a 27-point masterpiece from Monica Engelman and 20 from All-Big 12 point guard Angel Goodrich.
“I’m just happy we won,” said Engelman, oblivious to her career-high number. If she had a distraction, it was her mother getting trapped at a gas station 80 miles east on Interstate 70 during the weekend snowstorm.
“It’s survive and advance for our three seniors,” Engelman said of herself and teammates Goodrich and Carolyn Davis. “We were hungry and wanted to do everything collectively and individually to advance.”
Kansas, which ousted fifth-seeded and host Colorado in the first round Saturday, took ownership of the former Big 12 rival’s floor with a postgame celebration. Markisha Hawkins, who again put up critical first-half baskets, kept shouting “Sweet 16!” as she lifted the 5-foot-4 Goodrich off the floor.
The Jayhawks didn’t trail after going ahead with 16:13 left but had to fight out of six ties. Davis scored the go-ahead points with 2:30 left.
It was a one-possession game until Goodrich connected twice at the foul line with 18 seconds left and added another free throw five seconds later.
“It was a hard-fought game by both teams,” South Carolina coach Dawn Staley said. “My hat goes off to Kansas for out-willing us.”
Engelman’s 18 first-half points helped Kansas to a 42-41 lead at the break. The torrid pace created seven lead changes in the first 20 minutes.
“The pace of the game was not our pace,” Staley said. “It was Kansas’ pace. The tempo was too fast for us.”
South Carolina played into Kansas’ hands. “When we run, we have fun,” Goodrich said. “We wanted to catch them off balance.”
But South Carolina took control of the offensive boards at the start of the second half, prompting Henrickson to say: “They were like a pack of dogs on the last piece of meat on earth. I told our team ‘If we want to advance, we have to defend and rebound.’”
Engelman enjoyed the most productive night of her career, playing all 40 minutes. Goodrich delivered the biggest basket of the second half on a rare four-point play. After she was knocked to the floor after putting up a three from the left corner, Goodrich dropped in the foul shot for a 59-52 advantage with 12:30 left.
South Carolina’s two tallest starters, forwards Ashley Bruner and Aleighsa Welch, are listed at 6-0. The Gamecocks went to 6-3 Ibiam off the bench early in the game to counter KU’s 6-3 Davis and Chelsea Gardner.
Ibiam made an immediate difference coming in midway through the first half. She scored three straight baskets from close-in range, keeping the Jayhawks in South Carolina’s sights.
Forced outside by a South Carolina zone, Hawkins and Engelman combined as KU knocked down three straight threes, preventing a Gamecocks runaway. South Carolina abandoned the zone and Davis forced a shot inside to regain the lead, 40-39, with 1:48 left in the half.
Henrickson cited the late first-half run as key to halftime confidence.
South Carolina, 25-8, was led by Bruner and Welch with 16 points each and 12 and 11 boards respectively.
KU, 20-13, will play the winner of Tuesday game between top-seeded Notre Dame vs. No. 9 seed Iowa on Sunday in Norfolk, Va.
“You enjoy this for five minutes,” said Henrickson.
After dispatching high seeds from the Pac-12 and SEC, Engelman credited the Big 12 for preparing the Jayhawks on another wild postseason ride.
That, and the return to the Sweet 16. “Last year we had fun. We enjoyed the experience,” Engelman said. “This year we were hungry we wanted that feeling again.”