SEATTLE » It wasn’t swift or easy, but top-seeded South Carolina was enough of an imposing force to finish off a 73-58 win Sunday in its NCAA opener at Alaska Airlines Arena.
"This is March, welcome to the madness," South Carolina coach Dawn Staley said after an undersized, yet fearless Cal State Northridge team had the No. 1 seed concerned about an upset until the final minute of the game.
The No. 16 seed Matadors was within single digits three times in the second half, threatening to ruin the Gamecock’s debut as a top seed.
CSUN junior guard Cinnamon Lister made two free throws to make the deficit 64-56 with 1:25 left in the game. The Gamecocks made 11 free throws down the stretch to close out the win.
The Gamecocks (28-4) featured a balanced attack with four players scoring in double figures. Guard Tiffany Mitchell, the Southeastern Conference player of the year, picked her spots to finish with a team-high 24 points. Star freshman post Alaina Coates had 13 points and 16 rebounds off the bench.
"They never went away," said South Carolina junior forward Aleighsa Welch of CSUN (18-15).
South Carolina’s suffocating defense focused on junior guard Ashlee Guay, the Big West player of the year. Her team worked to get her open looks, but Guay couldn’t connect on her unique one-handed release. She was 0 for 6 from the field before rattling in her shot-a three-pointer-to inch Cal State Northridge within 45-39 with 13:47 left in the game.
Junior guard Janae Sharpe’s quick assist to sophomore center Bernadette Fong that slowly rolled into the hoop pulled CSUN within 45-41 with 12:58 left in the second half. South Carolina responded with a 13-2 run, capped with a deep jumper by sophomore guard Tina Roy as the shot-clock buzzer sounded.