COLUMBIA, S.C. – Junior guard Allisha Gray’s first career double-double and 18-point efforts from junior forward A’ja Wilson and junior guard Bianca Cuevas-Moore lifted No. 4/4 South Carolina to a 90-40 victory over UNC Asheville in the opening round of the NCAA Tournament Friday night at Colonial Life Arena. The win advanced the top-seeded Gamecocks to the second round for the sixth-straight year and improved Carolina’s mark to 28-4 on the season. The Bulldogs end their 2016-17 campaign at 19-15 following the loss.
Gray played big throughout the contest and finished the game with 22 points on 11-of-13 shooting to go with a career-high 12 rebounds. The junior grabbed seven offensive boards and delivered several put-back buckets to set the tone for the Gamecocks, who used a pair of double-digit runs in the second quarter to build a 26-point halftime lead. Cuevas-Moore’s play on the defensive end sparked the dominant stretch in the period, and the junior ended the game with a game-high four steals in addition to her 8-of-10 shooting performance. Wilson scored 12 of her 18 points in the first half and made four of her five free throws, while freshman forward Mikiah Herbert Harrigan netted eight fourth-quarter points and totaled 14 on the night to round out the list of Gamecocks to reach double figures.
Gray’s effort on the offensive glass led to a 6-4 Gamecock lead early on, as the junior’s put-back bucket put Carolina on the board before another rebound and layup from the guard 40 seconds later established the two-point advantage with 7:53 to play in the first quarter. A 3-pointer on the right wing from junior guard Kaela Davis pushed the lead to 9-6, and a great look inside by Wilson set up Gray for her third bucket of the period that gave the Gamecocks a 13-11 advantage midway through the quarter. Gray continued to crash the glass, cleaning up another missed jumper to extend the cushion to 15-11 for a Carolina team that saw 12 of its first 15 points come from the paint.
The Gamecock defense stifled UNC Asheville over the next few minutes, and the Bulldogs were held to just two points over the final 3:58 of the period after missing six of their final seven shot attempts of the quarter. Jumpers from Gray and freshman guard Tyasha Harris marked the final points of the quarter for Carolina, which headed to the first break leading 23-15 following its 14-4 run to close the period. Gray tallied 10 first-quarter points to go with five boards and connected on each of her first five field goals of the night.
Momentum stayed with the Gamecocks in the opening stages of the second quarter, and 3-pointers from the right side by Cuevas-Moore and Davis opened up a double-digit lead at 29-17 with 8:51 remaining in the first half. Carolina’s defense remained the difference, and the Gamecocks went on a 10-0 run after coming up with steals on four-straight UNC Ashville possessions. Cuevas-Moore accounted for two thefts during the stretch, the second of which led to a layup the other way that capped the dominant stretch and handed Carolina a 36-17 lead with just over seven minutes to play in the quarter. Gray did not let up on the glass, and two more put-back buckets from her made it 42-22 with a few minutes left in the half. Cuevas-Moore, one of three Carolina players to reach double-figures in the first half, capped off her masterful defensive showing in the period with another steal and layup to send the Gamecocks into the locker room with a commanding 48-22 advantage. The Bulldog offense again stalled, registering zero points over the final six minutes of the first half. Gray nearly notched a first-half double-double after totaling 14 points and eight rebounds, while Wilson and Cuevas-Moore each netted 12 points in the first 20 minutes.
Carolina’s speedy backcourt continued to cause problems for UNC Asheville out of the break, with the Gamecocks scoring eight of their first 10 points of the third quarter in transition to build a 58-22 lead near the midway point of the period. Gray delivered a handful of big plays in the quarter, including a block that allowed the junior to find Cuevas-Moore in transition for a layup that handed Carolina the 36-point lead. She followed up her own miss and converted another put put-back basket a minute later to make it 60-23 with 5:11 to play in the quarter. The play gave Gray a double-double for the Gamecocks, who connected on seven of their first 10 shots in the period. A pair of baskets inside from Wilson and a jumper by Herbert Harrigan provided the final points of the quarter for Carolina, which outscored the Bulldogs 22-6 for the period. The Gamecocks headed to the final break leading 70-28 after holding UNC Ashville to just one field goal in the third quarter.
Gray reached 20 points for the night in style, converting a layup while being fouled to extend the Carolina lead to 72-30 with 8:34 to play in the contest. She exited to a standing ovation after making another basket on the break off a pass from Cuevas-Moore 20 seconds later. The basket, her 11th field goal of the game, made it 74-30 Gamecocks, and Carolina maintained a lead of at least 40 the rest of the way.
The Gamecocks shot 56.9 percent from the floor and held a 45-26 rebound advantage. Sixty of Carolina’s 90 points came in the paint and 24 came in transition.
A pair of double-digit runs in the second quarter established a comfortable 48-22 lead at the half for the Gamecocks. Junior guard Bianca Cuevas-Moore netted 12 points in the period to pace Carolina.
Carolina’s defense led to easy baskets in transition throughout Friday’s contest, as the Gamecocks collected 23 points off 14 UNC Asheville turnovers. Six players recorded a steal for South Carolina on the night.
- The Gamecocks have won each of their last five NCAA Tournament games at Colonial Life Arena, boasting an average margin of victory of 33.2 points during that stretch.
- Allisha Gray’s performance Friday marked her third 20-point game for Carolina. Her 12 rebounds gave her the team high in boards for the third time on the season.
- Junior forward A’ja Wilson has scored at least 15 points in four of her last five NCAA Tournament contests dating back to 2015.
- Carolina’s 24 fast-break points were two shy of its season high. The Gamecocks have totaled at least 20 fast-break points in a game three times this season.
The Gamecocks will face either eighth-seeded Arizona State or the No. 9 seed Michigan State in Sunday’s second round of the NCAA Tournament. Tipoff time and TV coverage for the contest at Colonial Life Arena will be determined following the completion of the first round.