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No. 1 South Carolina women blow past Presbyterian to begin March Madness run

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COLUMBIA, S.C. -- — Chloe Kitts tied her career high with 21 points on 9-of-9 shooting as No. 1 overall seed South Carolina easily overcame the absence of starters Kamilla Cardoso and Bree Hall to beat No. 16 seed Presbyterian 91-39 in the first round of the women's NCAA Tournament on Friday.

The Gamecocks (33-0) moved five wins away from the 10th perfect championship season by overwhelming the Blue Hose (21-15) of the Big South Conference for a second time this season. Next comes another rematch against No. 8 seed North Carolina on Sunday. The Tar Heels gave up almost all of a 16-point lead before holding on to defeat No. 9 seed Michigan State earlier Friday.

Kitts also had a game-high 13 rebounds for her fifth double-double this season. Te-Hina Paopao had 18 points and freshman MiLaysia Fulwiley scored 17 for South Carolina, which moved to 12-0 in NCAA openers under coach Dawn Staley.

South Carolina played without Cardoso, its leading scorer, while she served a one-game suspension for her ejection for fighting last time out at the SEC Tournament finals on March 10. Hall, who started the previous 32 games, came out in street clothes on the bench. A team spokeswoman texted that Hall was out for “precautionary reasons.”

The 6-foot-7 Cardoso, tossed in the SEC finals for shoving LSU's Flau'jae Johnson to the ground late in the Gamecocks 79-72 victory, is expected to be back against the Tar Heels.

Fulwiley had five of South Carolina's nine 3-pointers and Paopao the other four.

South Carolina came out almost as fast as it did against Presbyterian back on Dec. 16 when it defeated the future Big South Tournament champions 99-29.

Sania Feagin, a reserve starting with Cardoso and Hall out, had six points in the game's first five minutes and Fulwiley, the SEC Tournament MVP, had two 3-pointers in the first quarter as the Gamecocks opened a 23-10 lead.

Presbyterian could not respond to the larger, faster, lengthier South Carolina and trailed 48-25 at the break.

The Blue Hose advanced to this game with a First Four victory over Sacred Heart, 49-42.

Paige Kindseth and Tilda Sjokvist had nine points each for the Blue Hose.

UP NEXT

South Carolina faces another rematch in the second round Sunday against North Carolina, which was ahead by 11 points before the Gamecocks rallied for a 65-58 victory at the ACC/SEC Challenge last November.

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AP March Madness bracket: https://apnews.com/hub/ncaa-womens-bracket/ and coverage: https://apnews.com/hub/march-madness