SAN ANTONIO (AP) One by one, South Carolina players walked through the confetti and climbed the ladder to cut down the net in the Alamodome.
It was only fitting that the Gamecocks got to keep the nylon. They used it way more than Texas did.
Zia Cooke scored 16 points and South Carolina used its stifling defense to advance to the Final Four for the third time, shutting down Texas for a 62-34 victory Tuesday night.
Top-seeded South Carolina blocked 14 shots, nine by Laeticia Amihere, and held No. 6 Texas to 23% shooting. The Longhorns were outscored 10-0 in the fourth quarter.
The Gamecocks have been on a mission ever since they felt they were denied a real chance at the national title last season when the NCAA Tournament was cancelled because of the pandemic. It showed all night long, but especially during the first scoreless quarter in the tourney since the women's game went to quarters in 2016.
''It says they're locked in,'' South Carolina coach Dawn Staley said. ''They have been focused, they wanted the opportunity to get to the Final Four. They know nothing about what they just accomplished. I like who we're bringing into this Final Four.''
South Carolina (26-4) won the Hemisfair Region to advance to Friday's national semifinal against the winner of Tuesday night's Alamo Region final between No. 1 Stanford and No. 2 Louisville.
Destanni Henderson and Victaria Saxton each scored 12 for the Gamecocks, and Amihere also had 10 points and eight rebounds in a terrific all-around performance.
South Carolina ran out to an 19-point lead in the third quarter, and responded to a Texas run with a burst started by a 3-pointer from Henderson. Then it put a lid on basket in the fourth.
''We don't back down from anyone,'' Cooke said. ''We just made sure that we put our foot on the gas, kept our guard up and did what we needed to do.''
Staley ran her championship game record against Texas' Vic Schaefer to 6-0, dating to when they faced each other in the SEC when Schaefer was at Mississippi State. That includes beating Schaefer in the 2017 national final.
''They can test you at everything that you do. Whether 3-point range or at the rim,'' Schaefer said. ''That's a reflection of Dawn. To me, those kids really embody probably how she was as a player.''
Schaefer took the Texas job in April 2020 and coaxed an impressive postseason run out of the Longhorns behind a grinding defense that carried the school to the brink of its first women's Final Four since 2003.
Texas was looking to become just the third No. 6 seed to make the Final Four since Notre Dame in 1997.
''This feeling right now, it's tough,'' said guard Kyra Lambert, who played at least 38 minutes in Texas' last three games and provided the go-ahead basket against Maryland in the Sweet 16. ''This is not how I pictured this to end.''
The Longhorns looked tired and a step slow after tough wins over UCLA and Maryland. They may have simply been worn out by the time they matched up with the big and quick Gamecocks, who pressured the ball on the perimeter and denied shots inside.
Audrey Warren led the Longhorns (21-10) with 13 points.
''Texas was a little tired,'' Staley said. ''I said, 'They may have some weary legs, but their hearts are going to keep beating.' And their hearts did keep beating, it's just that we just never let them off the hook.''
South Carolina had no problems attacking the Texas defense early, with three backdoor passes for layups by Saxton as the Gamecocks raced to an 18-7 lead. And the Gamecocks denied drives to the basket and produced four quick blocks when Texas tried.
The Longhorns shot just 3 of 16 in the first quarter. Meanwhile, South Carolina shot 57% in the first half and stretched the lead to 41-22 early in the third before Texas clawed back with a 9-0 run that forced Staley to call timeout.
South Carolina answered with a 3-pointer from Henderson to start the Gamecocks on the run that would put the game away.
At no point did South Carolina look out of control on Tuesday, opening the game on a 14-2 run highlighted by junior Victaria Saxton scoring the first eight points of the night for the Gamecocks.
The Gamecocks dismantled Texas defensively, holding UT to 14-of-61 (.230) from the field and 34 points, tied for the fewest points scored in any NCAA Tournament game from the Sweet 16 or later. The 12 points scored by Texas in the second half is the lowest total for any half of an Elite 8 round game in tournament history.
- With the win South Carolina advances to the Final Four for the third time in program history, all under Dawn Staley and all in the last six seasons.
- South Carolina's defense smothered Texas in the fourth quarter, holding the Longhorns scoreless in the period. This is the first time a team held its opponent scoreless for a quarter in NCAA Tournament history.
- The Gamecocks re-wrote some program records with the win - Fewest points allowed in a NCAA Tournament game (34); most blocked shots in a NCAA Tournament game (14); tied fewest points allowed in a quarter (0); tied third fewest points allowed in a second half (12).
- South Carolina continued its season-long streak of not being outrebounded, holding a 46-33 edge over the Longhorns.
- Sophomore Zia Cooke lit up in the second quarter, scoring 11 of her game-high 16 points in the second on her way to the Hemisfair Region Most Outstanding Player award. Cooke is averaging 14 points in the tournament.
- Junior Victaria Saxton opened the game on fire scoring the first eight South Carolina points of the night on her way to a 12-point eight-rebound performance and a spot on the Hemisfair All-Region team.
- Junior Destanni Henderson had a quiet first half offensively but dished out five of her seven assists before the break. She got hot in the third quarter, scoring seven of her 12 points in the third.
- Sophomore Laeticia Amihere shook off some early foul trouble to continue her big contributions off the bench, scoring all 10 of her points snagging seven of her eight rebounds and notching all nine of her blocks in the second half, securing a spot on the Hemisfair All-Region team. Her nine blocked shots are a program record for NCAA Tournament games.
- Sophomore Aliyah Boston did most of her offensive damage in the first quarter, scoring six of her 10 points in the opening frame. Boston feasted on the boards in the third, snatching five of her eight rebounds in the third quarter on her way to a spot on the Hemisfair All-Region team.
The No. 1-seeded Gamecocks (26-4, 14-1 SEC) are set for a meeting with either No. 1-seeded Stanford or No. 2-seeded Louisville in the Final Four. Tipoff for that game is set for 6 p.m. ET on ESPN.