Gamecocks defeat Cal State Northridge 73-58
For the first time as a No. 1 seed, the South Carolina women’s basketball team cruised to a first-round NCAA Tournament win Sunday with a 73-58 victory over Cal State Northridge.
Despite the convincing final margin, the Matadors refused to go down without a fight throughout the game.
“We’re not going to win any style points,” coach Dawn Staley said. “We are who we are. I don’t think we just come out and blow teams out. We knew that Cal State Northridge did some things we had trouble with all season long.”
The No. 16 seed cut South Carolina’s lead to as little as four points with 13 minutes remaining in the game.
SEC player of the year Tiffany Mitchell lived up to her title and led South Carolina with 24 points in the game to go with a team-high four assists. The sophomore said the Gamecocks’ key to pulling away from Northridge in the end was sticking to their strengths.
“They kind of just stayed around the whole time, even though we got a double digit lead,” Mitchell said. “We kind of just kept our composure and just got the ball inside and just kept doing what we were doing.”
Freshman center Alaina Coates joined Mitchell in double-figures scoring, turning in the second-most points on the team with 13 and bringing down a game-high 16 rebounds.
Two more Gamecocks broke the double-digit barrier in the contest, with juniors Aleighsa Welch and Elem Ibiam each registering 11 points.
South Carolina only allowed one Matador to break the 10-point mark, but that single player almost sparked Cal State Northridge to the upset. Janae Sharpe led all scorers with 26 points, a number Mitchell thinks came from an overemphasis the Gamecocks put on Sharpe’s teammates.
“I think we kind of paid a lot more attention to (Ashlee) Guay and (Cinnamon) Lister, and we kind of helped off of Sharpe so she got some easy looks in the beginning,” Mitchell said. “We just had to gauge it and we just kept leaving her sometimes.”
Sharpe was Northridge’s third-leading scorer entering Sunday’s matchup with South Carolina, averaging 12.5 points per game compared to Lister’s 15.3 and Guay’s 16.3.
The Gamecocks have seen moderate success in recent NCAA Tournament’s, reaching the Sweet Sixteen two years ago and earning a No. 4 last season, but Staley said that, as a No. 1 seed, it’s a whole different ball game.
“We know what it feels like to hunt, and now we know what it feels like to be the hunted,” Staley said before the tournament. “And for us, our players are up for the challenge.”
South Carolina will face a quick turnaround after advancing on to the next round. The Gamecocks will be pitted against No. 9 seed Oregon State, who pulled off a slight upset over eighth-seeded Middle Tennessee State later Sunday night.
While South Carolina looked to be in for a test when the Matadors came out shooting, the Gamecocks were able to expand their advantage when all was said and done, and Staley feels there is no need to worry come round two.
“We just ran up against a team that was ready to play,” Staley said. “Sometimes a marathon’s not won in the first mile, and it surely wasn’t today.”