COLUMBIA, SC (WIS) - A gritty effort by North Carolina A&T would leave fans in Colonial Life Arena at the edge of their seats Friday night.
In the end, A'ja Wilson and the Gamecocks were able to hold off Tarrell Robinson's squad to advance to the second round with a 63-52 win over the Lady Aggies.
"It was a great game on North Carolina A&T's part," Gamecocks head coach Dawn Staley said. "I thought they did some things to us that exposed us at this time of the season. They pressured us, they forced us into turnovers, and they forced us in playing some ugly basketball. It wasn't just us. They had a lot to do with it."
The Gamecocks came out early with good offensive rhythm. Bianca Jackson got things going by knocking down the first two threes of the game helping Carolina open the contest on an 18-4 run. Jackson, who finished with 16, helped South Carolina shoot 67 percent from long range in the first quarter to take a 26-11 lead.
"I'm feeling pretty confident right now," Jackson said. "My teammates always find me in a good spot. So, I'm just ready and waiting to knock down shots."
"It was great to see her knock down shots because you had people giving up good shots to give her probably the best shot on the floor and she was able to deliver," Staley said when asked about Jackson's performance. "That's what you want. She looked comfortable out there. She looked like she had been there before and we're going to need everybody playing like Shay did on Sunday.
Carolina was sluggish in the second quarter scoring only four points in the first four minutes. However, the Lady Aggies weren't able to capitalize on the Gamecocks' offensive struggles and USC would come away with a 39-21 lead at the break. The Lady Aggies would come alive in the third quarter. The No. 15 seed outscored the Gamecocks 14-10 to make it a 49-35 game. North Carolina A&T State kept the pressure on in the fourth cutting Carolina's lead down to seven.
"I just asked them 'What does it take to get you all to understand?'" Robinson recalled. "Even the halftime score, what was it, 14, 16 points? The game was still in reach and we've been down in situations like that during the season and been able to come back. It's embedded in them that the second half is our better half."
In the end, the Gamecocks would hold on. With A'ja Wilson putting USC up 63-52 with under a minute, the No. 2 seed would survive and advance to the second round.
Wilson finished with 19 points and 16 rebounds in the win despite shooting 6-of-15 from the floor.
"I just wasn't focused at times and I needed to be focused," Wilson said. "Honestly, I feel like I disappointed Coach this game and I really don't like this feeling so, when we watch film, I'm going to watch film and see how I can change my ways because, like I said, teams are going to be looking at that and I don't want them to think that that's the way to stop me. I still have to find a way to contribute for my team in situations."
South Carolina will now play Virginia in the second round at 9 p.m. on Sunday.