It's an overstatement to say South Carolina had something to prove in its first-round NCAA tournament game against UNC Asheville. After all, the No. 1 seed in the Stockton Regional was supposed to win easily, especially on its home court.
Still, after the announcement that senior center Alaina Coates would be out for the tournament with an ankle injury, the Gamecocks had to be a little concerned about coming out flat. They didn't want to struggle to put away the Bulldogs, who won the Big South tournament despite going just 9-9 in the league.
And it turned out, the Gamecocks won this one going away, 90-40.
Player of the game: South Carolina guard Allisha Gray wasn't thrilled with her SEC tournament performance individually in the semifinals and final, although the Gamecocks did win the title. She seemed to come out Friday on a mission, and got her first double-double of the season with 22 points and 12 rebounds. Gray was on the North Carolina team that beat South Carolina in the 2014 Sweet 16 and lost to the Gamecocks in that same round in 2015. Now, after sitting out a year as a transfer, she's trying to help South Carolina make its second Final Four. Friday's game was a very good tournament opener for Gray, who scored her most points in a game since the season opener.
Turning point: Freshman point guard Tyasha Harris hit a jumper at the first-quarter buzzer, putting the Gamecocks up 23-15. It just firmed up the feeling that the momentum was fully in South Carolina's favor, and then the Gamecocks held the Bulldogs to seven points in the second quarter. The game was essentially over at halftime.
How it was won: The Gamecocks simply overwhelmed the Bulldogs on both ends of the court. UNC Asheville shot just 25.9 percent from the field, and could do little to slow down South Carolina, which shot 56.9 percent. The Gamecocks also outrebounded the Bulldogs 45-26.
X factor: South Carolina guard Bianca Cuevas-Moore does have a tendency to be a feast-or-famine type player. But it was all good Friday for Cuevas-Moore, who tallied 18 points on 8-of-10 shooting. With Coates out, the Gamecocks will be going with a smaller lineup more often, and that will mean more minutes for Cuevas-Moore. Games in which she can take advantage of her speed and ability to score in transition are great for South Carolina.
Stat of the game: Gray and Cuevas-Moore combined to shoot 19-of-23 from the floor.
What's next: South Carolina faces the winner of No. 8 Arizona State vs. No. 9 Michigan State. The Sun Devils are finally healthy after dealing with various injuries throughout the season. They finished fifth in the Pac-12 at 9-9. Michigan State, led by senior guard Tori Jankoska (22.5 PPG, 8.0 RPG), tied for sixth in the Big Ten.