No. 17/14 South Carolina found offense early in a 74-52 victory over South Dakota State in NCAA Tournament first-round action at Coors Events Center. The Gamecocks (25-7) shot 60.7 percent from the field in the first half and dominated the defensive glass, allowing the Jackrabbits just three offensive boards on 16 missed shots. Senior Ashley Bruner led the way with 12 points and seven rebounds in the opening 20 minutes of play and finished with her eighth double-double of the season.
Both teams got off to a rocky start after a timing issue slowed down the start. The Gamecocks struggled shooting and with turnovers, but the defense kept things close. South Dakota State led 14-13 with 12:00 to play, but would score just 12 points the rest of the way as South Carolina imposed its will on the game in the second half of the period.
Bruner put the Gamecocks on top with a move on the left block to start a 13-5 run that put the Gamecocks up 26-19 with eight minutes to play. Defensive rebounding limited the Jackrabbits to just one shot per possession, and the resulting transition made for easier offense for South Carolina. Aleighsa Welch hit a jumper in the lane, and Ieasia Walker delivered a transition layup to make it a 19-14 Gamecock advantage.
The Jackrabbits stayed within five until Tiffany Mitchell buried a 3 from the left side off great ball movement with 5:52 to play. After a SDSU drive, Asia Dozier hit another 3 from almost the same spot at Mitchell to make it an 11-point game with 4:47 to play. The basket kicked off a 13-5 run that closed the half, sending the Gamecocks into the locker room with a 44-26 advantage.
The start of the second half was much like the first with the Jackrabbits scoring early, but the Gamecocks did not allow that to go on for long. Welch scored six straight points to turn the tide back in South Carolina's favor as the lead stretched to 21 at 52-31 with 14:38 left to play. The Jackrabbits hit back-to-back baskets for the first time since early in the first half, but again South Carolina had the answer.
Elem Ibiam opened the 9-0 surge with a pair of free throws, and Walker's 3 kept it going. After a steal, Dozier went to the line for two free throws. Another strong defensive showing yielded an easy rebound that keyed Ibiam's move on the left block to cap the run and put the Gamecocks up 61-34 with 11:34 to play. The Jackrabbits scored eight straight as the Gamecocks suffered a spate of turnovers, but head coach Dawn Staley quickly shepherded her starters back into the game to wrest control of the situation, and South Carolina cruised to the victory.
The Gamecocks shot a season-high 76.9 percent from the free throw line, including 12-of-14 in the second half as the Jackrabbits wore down. Seniors Bruner and Walker finished with 15 points in the outing, showing their younger teammates the way. Bruner added a game-high 11 rebounds to go with three assists and four steals in her 28 minutes on the court. Walker finished with four assists and three steals. Ibiam and Mitchell joined in the double-digit scorers with 13 and 11 points, respectively.
South Carolina advances to the second round of the event, where the Gamecock will take on the winner of the game between No. 19/19 Colorado and Kansas. That game is scheduled for 7:30 p.m. (MDT) on Monday, March 25.