CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) — Te'a Cooper scored 13 points, Alexis Jennings added 12 points and nine rebounds, and fourth-seeded South Carolina shook off a sluggish start to pull away from No. 13 seed Belmont 74-52 on Friday in the opening round of the women's NCAA Tournament.
Tyasha Harris chipped in with 12 points and six assists and Doniyah Cliney added 10 points on 5-of-5 shooting for the Gamecocks, who won in their first game since getting upset by Arkansas in the quarterfinals of the Southeastern Conference Tournament.
The Gamecocks (22-9) advanced to Sunday's second round, where they'll face either Bucknell or Florida State.
Darby Maggard had 13 points and Conley Chinn had 10 for Belmont (26-7).
It took South Carolina a quarter to find its groove.
The Gamecocks led only 16-13 after 10 minutes but outscored the Bruins 13-3 in the second quarter after making a concerted effort to pound the ball inside to Jennings and Victaria Saxton and take advantage of their size.
South Carolina came out hot in the third quarter, extending its offense to the perimeter and making 8 of its first 11 shots from the field — including three 3-pointers — to build a 21-point lead. Cliney essentially put the game away in the closing seconds of the third quarter, pickpocketing Jamilyn Kinney and going the length of the floor to give the Gamecocks a 60-36 lead.
The game was played at Halton Arena on the campus of UNC Charlotte — about 90 minutes from South Carolina's home floor. South Carolina is hosting the first two rounds of the men's tournament, prompting the change in venue.
Belmont: The Bruins hung tough for one quarter but struggled with South Carolina's overall size. They're still looking for their first NCAA Tournament win.
South Carolina: The Gamecocks finally started to look like the Gamecocks of old in the third quarter, regaining some of the swagger they lost in the SEC Tournament. Now it will be interesting to see if that carries over to the second round, where the competition is tougher.
South Carolina will face winner of No. 5 Florida State/No. 12 Bucknell on Sunday.