South Carolina got a far tougher test than expected from Cal State Northridge, but the Gamecocks pulled away late to secure a 73-58 win and a spot in the second round of the NCAA Tournament. This marks the third straight year that South Carolina has won its first-round matchup.
South Carolina jumped out to a 34-20 lead in the first half and appeared to be well on their way to an easy victory. The Gamecocks gained their advantage with excellent interior play on both ends of the court but gave away all but four points of their lead when their hot shooting cooled and they stopped dominating the offensive and defensive glass. This gave the Matadors enough second chances to get back in the game despite shooting the ball poorly (30% from inside the arc) all night long.
But SEC freshman of the year Alaina Coates took over the game down the stretch. The 6'4 center finished the night with 13 points and 14 rebounds, earning her ninth double-double of the 2013-14 season. Any time the ball found its way to Coates in the paint, the Irmo, S.C. native was either coming away with two points or going to the free throw line, it seemed. In fact, South Carolina's ability to get to the charity stripe (42 free throw attempts) as a team while preventing the Matadors' from getting there themselves (15 free throw attempts) was likely the deciding factor in the game.
Aleigsha Welch scored 10 points early in the game but was subsequently kept in check by CSUN center Camille Mahlknecht, who swatted away three of Welch's shots and four overall. The Gamecocks' junior forward also appeared to injure her ankle early in the second half. At points it appeared as though the injury was severe enough to cause Coach Staley to pull her out of the game, but Welch stayed in.
Tiffany Mitchell led the Gamecocks in scoring with 23 points. South Carolina's junior guard and Wooden Award finalist shot five-of-11 from the field and made 12 of her 16 free throw attempts.
No. 9 Oregon State beat Middle Tennessee State on Sunday night, advancing to play South Carolina on March 25 in the round of 32. Please do not make nickname jokes in the comments oh who are we kidding go ahead and knock yourselves out.