BOULDER, Colo. — The 13th-seeded South Dakota State Jackrabbits were matching No. 4 seed South Carolina basket for basket, big play for big play Saturday.
Then, the Gamecocks hit seven straight baskets midway through the first half, sparking a 74-52 rout of the Jackrabbits in the opening round of the NCAA women’s tournament.
“The momentum was great. We gave them no slack and kept the pressure on,” said Ashley Bruner, who led South Carolina with 15 points and 11 rebounds. “We were eye-to-eye with them at that point. Then the momentum went in our direction.”
After that, the Gamecocks (25-7), who won a school-record 11 Southeastern Conference games this season, used their superior athleticism and stout defense to make quick work of the Jackrabbits (25-8), the Summit League regular season and tournament champs.
Guard Ieasia Walker, the SEC defensive player of the year, finished with 15 points. She also helped hold South Dakota State to 33 percent shooting in the first half as the Gamecocks raced to a 44-26 halftime lead on the strength of 61 percent shooting and 10 forced turnovers.
Gamecocks coach Dawn Staley said her halftime speech was about speed.
“We forced them to play quicker than they wanted to play,” she said.
South Carolina led by as many as 27 in the second half as the Jackrabbits, despite 15 points from Ashley Eide, didn’t have a run in them.
Elem Ibian had 13 points for USC, which faces 12th-seeded Kansas in the second round. Former Goose Creek star Aleighsa Welch added eight points and five rebounds.
Only four teams have reached the 60-point mark against South Carolina, and the Jackrabbits looked primed to make it five when they hung with the Gamecocks for the first 10 minutes of the game.
The Gamecocks, who matched last season’s win total with their 25th victory, the most by the program in the SEC era (beginning 1991-92), found their shooting touch midway through the first half, hitting seven straight shots to build a 28-21 lead.
They began pulling away when Tiffany Mitchell and Asia Dozier made 3-pointers from the left corner to push the lead to double digits.
“You can force momentum by picking up defense,” Staley said. “After the first seven minutes, we got our footing. We were hitting shots, which makes life easier.”
This was the Jackrabbits’ fifth straight NCAA tournament appearance. But after beating TCU in their first NCAA game in 2009, they’ve lost five straight times in the NCAAs.
The Jackrabbits have been one-and-done in each of their past four trips, to the NCAA tournament, seeded 14th, 15th, 13th and 13th. Their only NCAA win came in 2009, when they were a No. 7 seed and beat TCU before losing to Baylor.
“Well, it’s a challenge,” Jackrabbits coach Aaron Johnston said. “I remember our first year we were a 7 seed and that’s a much better position to be in versus who you’re going to be playing against. If we stay in that 13-14-15 seed, we’re going to be playing people who are top-20 teams.
“We’ve played the kind of non-conference schedule that it takes to get a little better seed, and I thought we played pretty well this year. We just didn’t have a couple of (more) wins that we needed.”
So, while the Gamecocks advanced, the Jackrabbits prepared to go home and regroup.
“The difference between being a 13 seed and a 10 seed is probably two wins for us,” Johnston said. “We’re not talking about having to go back and reshape everything we do.”