The defending national champions had to sweat out a first-round victory that most people probably thought would be automatic. It was anything but, though, as No. 2 seed South Carolina held on to beat No. 15 North Carolina A&T 63-52.
The Gamecocks' supporters breathed a sigh of relief after a game that was much closer than expected. A No. 15 seed has never won a game in the women's NCAA tournament, but North Carolina A&T made the Gamecocks work hard. The Aggies got as close as seven with just over three minutes left, despite shooting just 29.3 percent from the field for the game.
South Carolina senior forward A'ja Wilson, the espnW National Player of the Year, finished with 19 points, 16 rebounds, 5 blocks and 4 steals. The Gamecocks shot just 38.5 percent from the field, and had 19 turnovers.
Next up for South Carolina is a second-round game with No. 10 seed Virginia, which upset No. 7 Cal 68-62. Cal was without star Kristine Anigwe, who wasn't medically cleared to play, and the Cavaliers took advantage.
Gamecocks coach Dawn Staley wanted to share South Carolina's 2017 national championship with all the people she felt had helped her along the way, including her former teammates at Virginia, where as a player she went to the Women's Final Four three times in 1990-92. She sent them all a replica of the NCAA title trophy and a message of thanks.
Sunday, those former teammates will have to choose between rooting for Staley or for their alma mater. The Gamecocks and Cavaliers will play for a trip to the Albany Regional semifinals.
This will be the third time that Staley has faced Virginia as a coach, but the first time she has done so while with South Carolina. While she was at Temple, she faced her college coach, Debbie Ryan, in 2003 and 2006, both Virginia victories.