COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — Zia Cooke scored 11 points as No. 1 South Carolina moved five wins away from a perfect season after opening the women’s NCAA Tournament with a 72-40 victory over No. 16 seed Norfolk State on Friday.
Aliyah Boston had seven points, nine rebounds and two blocks for the Gamecocks (33-0), who won their 39th straight game dating back to last year’s NCAA title run and moved to 11-0 in first-round games under coach Dawn Staley. They’ll face No. 8 seed South Florida on Sunday for a spot in the Sweet 16.
This was a colossal mismatch from the tip like so many other games South Carolina’s been a part of this season.
Norfolk State’s tallest player is freshman forward Skye Robinson at 6-foot-2. South Carolina has seven players that tall or taller. The Spartans’ tallest player on the bench? Larry Vickers, the team’s 6-9 head coach, who walked onto the Spartans’ men’s team and eventually became a team captain.
South Carolina did its best to end any drama early as Boston and Cooke scored five points apiece in the opening quarter for a 20-7 lead.
The Gamecock starters picked things up in the third quarter scoring the first six points to lead 40-18 and the Spartans could not hope to catch up. The lead swelled to 30 points after three quarters with few in the mostly full and garnet-colored stands complaining.
Vickers joked on Thursday he wasn’t sure how much of a home game this was until walking around the arena and seeing Staley’s ceiling-to-door length banner in the building’s main entrance.
Kierra Wheeler led Norfolk State with 13 points. The Spartans came in shooting almost 40% on the season, but were held to 16 of 61 (26%) by the Gamecocks.
South Carolina’s second-round opponent, South Florida, won the American Athletic Conference’s regular season and features a pair of top scorers in Elena Tsineke and Dulcy Fankam Mendjiadeu. Fankam Mendjiadeu has 24 double doubles this season, more than the Gamecocks’ Boston, who has 20.
Norfolk State: The Spartans were beaten in the title game of the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference a year ago, fueling this season’s run to a league tournament title and first NCAA Tournament berth since 2002. Vickers’ team has a base of five sophomores he hopes can gain experience so their next trip to the tournament won’t take so long.
South Carolina: The Gamecocks weren’t tested and used several younger, rising players like Sania Feagin, Chloe Kitts and Talaysia Cooper who wouldn’t see much action in a tighter game. Staley believes this can prep those less experienced team members to be ready if called on in a big spot.