The road to repeating as NCAA champs started on Friday, and, unsurprisingly, USC took care of business to kick off March Madness.
Top-ranked South Carolina (33-0) defeated the 16-seeded Norfolk State Spartans (26-7) Friday afternoon in front of the home fans by the score of 72-40 to advance to the Round of 32 in the women’s NCAA Tournament. It was also the team’s 39th consecutive victory.
Although today’s performance failed to match up to last year’s 58-point thrashing of Howard in the first round that featured the Bison scoring a total of four points in the first half and eight through three quarters, the Gamecocks did play well.
The one thing both games especially had in common was stellar defense from USC.
The Spartans struggled to get anything going offensively aside from the fast break, shooting only 23.2%, including a 4-of-12 clip from three-point land.
To tell the whole story, the starters were out for the Gamecocks at the 8:29 mark of the fourth quarter, and the Spartans made two threes in addition to scoring a game-high 14 points in the quarter, which helped boost each shooting percentage.
Norfolk State even struggled to take advantage from the charity stripe, making four free throws in nine opportunities at the line.
Individually, only one player on the whole team (Niya Fields) was able to shoot at least 50% from the field as well.
What did differ from last year, though, was South Carolina’s offensive woes in the first half, and that was able to keep Norfolk State in the game for as long as they were.
The Gamecocks missed their last nine shots in the half as part of a stretch of almost five minutes without a field goal.
USC’s 33 first half points were also the fewest from the team since its February 23 win over Tennessee.
South Carolina’s stars – Zia Cooke and Aliyah Boston – had a hard time heating up with Boston only scoring four and Zia Cooke struggling to find her stroke inside the three-point line though the first two quarters.
Free throws, similarly to Norfolk State, were not South Carolina’s friend either, hitting only 61% from the stripe for the contest.
A trend in South Carolina’s game, though, is key third quarter runs that tend to break games open, and that trend continued with a 19-0 run spanning from just under four minutes to play in the third quarter to 6:08 remaining in the fourth quarter to transform an 18-point lead to a 63-26 lead capped off by a free throw from Laeticia Amihere.
Despite scoring 72 points as a team, it was a team scoring effort, too, with South Carolina’s leading scorers (Zia Cooke and Amihere) only contributing 11 points apiece.
No starter shot north of 50% from the field, either, as the bench, led by Amihere and Sania Feagin, played a big role in this one
Anyway, the Gamecocks have been able to adjust all year long, and they will have two days to do so before taking the court again on Sunday against South Florida at Colonial Life Arena.