Top-seed NC State shakes off rust, readies for South Florida

North Carolina State’s players were a bit concerned whether they’d be able to get their “mojo” back after an extended layoff between games.

And indeed, there were a few anxious moments in the first half of their women’s NCAA Tournament opener against North Carolina A&T.

Turns out the top-seeded Wolfpack’s worries were unfounded. In the end, they easily ousted the Aggies 79-58 on Sunday.

With the first-game rust shaken off, top-seeded North Carolina State advanced to a second-round game Tuesday against No. 8 seed South Florida, which defeated Washington State 57-53 in the Mercado Region.

“I felt like we’ve got to have more urgency,” Wolfpack coach Wes Moore said after the victory. “We’ve been sitting around for two weeks now and we’ve got to find our mojo, so to speak, and get some energy and urgency on the defensive end of the floor. So we’ve got a lot of things we need to improve in two days.”

Other teams advancing to the second round in the region include Arizona, which routed Stony Brook 79-44 on Monday. The third-seeded Wildcats will face No. 11 BYU, which upset No. 6 Rutgers 69-66.

Fourth-seeded Indiana easily got by VCU 63-32 to move into the second-round game where they will face No. 12 Belmont, which upset fifth-seeded Gonzaga 64-59 for the Bruins’ first-ever tournament victory.

N.C. State wrapped up the Atlantic Coast Conference Tournament on March 7 and was among the earliest teams to secure an automatic bid. The Pac-12 and Southeastern Conference also wrapped up their tournaments on that day, but the majority of conference finals came the next weekend. Only the Ohio Valley Conference finished earlier, on March 6.

NO DISRESPECT

South Florida may have felt a bit disrespected with the No. 8 seed in the region. But it didn’t much matter following their first-round victory over Washington State.

“Eight is enough,” coach Jose Fernandez quipped.

The Bulls are moving on to the second round for the fourth time in school history. They’ve never been to the Sweet 16.

But it’s been rough going: Fernandez revealed he’s been battling the flu, and has been on Tamiflu for the last five days. Assistant coach Danny Hughes had emergency gallbladder surgery less than 24 hours before the opener — and made it back to the sideline in time.

“This has been a very interesting trip here to San Antonio so far,” Fernandez said.

WE BELONG

BYU wasn’t even certain it would make the women’s NCAA Tournament.

Paisley Harding was on Instagram when the Cougars were one of the last teams selected. “We didn’t think we were, but we’re going!” she exclaimed.

Thing is, BYU didn’t just get in the tournament, they pulled off the field’s first upset on Monday. Harding had 28 points for the Cougars in the win.

“Coming into the NCAA Tournament we just wanted to prove ourselves, and to everyone, to the nation, that that we were going to fight and not let down and that we deserved to be in the NCAA Tournament. And we just showed that today,” said BYU guard Shaylee Gonzalez.

ALL EYES ON AARI

It’s expected that Aari McDonald is going to score in droves for Arizona.

After all, McDonald was named the Pac-12 player of the year and defensive player of the year, the first to earn both honors since Stanford’s Chiney Oguwmike in 2013. And in addition to being the NCAA’s active scoring leader, she also leads the nation with an 87-game streak of scoring in double figures. She averaged 19.3 points, 5.1 rebounds and 4.3 assists coming into the tournament.

But the Wildcats had a more balanced attack against Stony Brook on Monday — something that will help them as they advance in the tournament.

McDonald had 20 points, but Trinity Baptiste added 18 and Cate Reese had 16.

“I can’t stress this enough: I’m proud of my teammates,” McDonald said after the win. “We came, we did what you’re supposed to do. The things we worked on, we had a great week of practice since we’ve been here. I’m just glad it translated to the game.”

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More AP women’s college basketball coverage: https://apnews.com/hub/womens-college-basketball

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