South Carolina closed the game out by pulling down key rebounds and getting to the free-throw line, denying the Matadors an opportunity to hit more big shots in the final moments. Northridge's leading scorer, guard Ashlee Guay, was limited to six points on 2-of-9 shooting and left the game after hitting her head on the floor with less than five minutes to play. Guard Janae Sharp finished with a game-high 26 points.
Northridge coach Jason Flowers made a convincing case that his 18-15 team thought they could win. "We've got good kids," Flowers said. "These kids have gone through things, individually and as a group. They have consistently overcome adversity. It was a situation where we wanted to show people who we really are."
The concern for South Carolina might be that this game also showed who the Gamecocks really are, a vulnerable top seed that may not run through this NCAA field the same way a Connecticut or a Notre Dame likely will.
"We survived to play on," Staley said. "I'm glad to be sitting here preparing for another game. A lot of teams in the men's and women's tournaments can't say that right now."
Middle Tennessee star Ebony Rowe can't say it, either.
Rowe ended a stellar career with 17 points (on 7-of-23 shooting) and 11 rebounds. Her voice cracked with emotion as she talked about playing her final game for the Blue Raiders.
"Of course, I wanted the win, but it's been a great four years," Rowe said. "I played for the best coach in the country and these girls are my family. I'm really blessed. I couldn't have asked for anything more."
Rueck and his team, meanwhile, move on. And they are going to continue to try to keep things casual, even as the No. 1 seed bears down on Tuesday night.
"Games are games. I don't care if it's the NCAA tournament or the junior high championship," Rueck said. "It's a big game and you want to win, but we have tried to keep things as normal as possible. There's no use getting uptight about it."