CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. -- Miami's Riquna Williams laughed when asked if being a No. 3 seed in the NCAA tournament brought pressure to a team that hadn't won a tournament game in 18 years.
"It's only a number," she said.
Williams scored 17 of her 28 points in the first half and grabbed nine rebounds as the Hurricanes beat Gardner-Webb 80-62 on Sunday in the first round of the women's NCAA tournament.
The victory was the first in the tournament since 1993 for Miami (28-4), and kept alive a dramatic turnaround season. They went from 12th in the Atlantic Coast Conference last season to regular-season champions this year, earning Katie Meier league coach of the year honors.
They showed why against the Runnin' Bulldogs, using a 19-5 run in the first half to build a 45-28 lead by halftime, and then going into cruise mode too soon as Gardner-Webb hung around.
"I think we took our foot off the gas, but when it was time to execute at the end of the game, we were able to do that," Johnson, the ACC player of the year, said.
Dominique Hudson led Gardner-Webb with 18 points and twin sister Monique had 17.
Dominique said the Big South Conference champion Runnin' Bulldogs (23-11), playing in their first NCAA tournament game, weren't intimidated by the Hurricanes' size or speed.
"I think the biggest thing is that just outran us," she said. "We just never caught up with the pace off the game."
Bulldogs coach Rick Reeves said his team looked forward to matching up with an opponent that also favored an up-tempo style, but came up short in the things they wanted to attend to most.
"We felt the keys going into the game were rebounding, not putting them at the free throw line and keeping up with the pace of the game," Reeves said. And the game proved him right.
Miami outrebounded his team 50-40 and had a 24-6 edge in free throws made.
"Their quick first step really caught us, and that's in all phases," he said. "They got off the ground faster than volleyball players."
Gardner-Webb closed within 11 with 11:41 remaining, but could get no closer.
Morgan Stroman added 17 points, 12 rebounds, four steals and three assists and Johnson had 11 points and 18 rebounds for Miami. The Hurricanes had a 20-10 edge in second chance points.
Miami took charge midway through the first half. Leading just 21-18, Williams made three free throws, starting a 19-5 burst that expanded the lead to 40-23. The last 12 points came in succession as the Bulldogs went scoreless for nearly 4 minutes with five turnovers.
The pressure helped key the burst.
"We have to do that if we want to win," Johnson said.
Williams had seven points in the run, and Johnson hit a pair of jumpers.
The Hurricanes' alternating halfcourt trap and fullcourt press also was effective. The Runnin Bulldogs had 14 first-half turnovers that Miami turned into 13 points.