After a 32-0 regular season, South Carolina entered NCAA tournament play as a heavy favorite to win the championship.
So far, so good. The Gamecocks opened their title defense with a dominant 72-40 win over Norfolk State on Friday. They didn't quite cover the whopping 50.5 spread. But there's little from their first-round effort to suggest they're not prepared to defend their 2022 title.
The Gamecocks opened the game with a 20-7 first quarter. They held the Spartans to single digits again in the third with a 22-8 edge. Only a 16-14 fourth quarter after South Carolina let its foot off the gas made the final score as close as 32 points.
Defense was the name of the game for the Gamecocks as they limited the Spartans to 26.2% shooting from the floor and a 4-for-12 (33.3%) effort from 3-point distance. South Carolina outrebounded Norfolk State, 49-33 and forced 17 turnovers. The Gamecocks blocked 11 Spartans shot. Norfolk State blocked none. It was the type of effort expected from a 1-16 matchup featuring the tournament's No. 1 overall seed.
The Gamecocks don't come away from Friday's game with nothing to work on, though. They shot just 39.7% form the field and struggled from 3-point distance (5 of 17, 29.4%). Long-distance shooting is a weakness for a South Carolina team that shot just 31.5% from behind the arc during the season. A stronger opponent could make them pay for shooting more than 40% of their field goal attempts from 3-point distance.
But the Gamecocks should be well-rested for Sunday's second-round game against No. 8 seed South Florida. Fourteen players saw the floor for South Carolina and only two — Aliyah Boston (23 minutes) and Brea Beal (20 minutes) — played 20 minutes or more. Nine players score five points or more in a balanced offensive effort that saw Zia Cooke lead the way with 11 points and five rebounds despite shooting just 3 of 12 from the field. Boston added seven points, nine rebounds and two blocks.