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Let’s Dance: PC downs Sacred Heart, to face Gamecocks

PC’s Tilda Sjökvist (4) and Dennai Hinds celebrate the Blue Hose’s NCAA Tournament win over Sacred Heart Wednesday night in Columbia.

Editor’s Note: Advertiser Editor John Clayton will be back in Columbia Thursday and Friday for complete coverage of PC’s NCAA Tournament game against No. 1 South Carolina. Read it all here.

COLUMBIA – Presbyterian’s post-season glass slipper still fits.

The PC women’s basketball team outlasted Sacred Heart 49-42 in the First Four of the NCAA Women’s Basketball Tournament Wednesday at Colonial Life Arena, winning its first NCAA tournament game in its first tournament appearance.

The victory sets up a rematch between the Blue Hose (21-14) and No. 1-ranked South Carolina (32-0) at 2 p.m. Friday back at Colonial Life Arena – the Gamecocks’ home floor. South Carolina dominated PC 99-29 in a December regular-season meeting.

It also snapped Sacred Heart’s 15-game winning streak as the Blue Hose – with an enrollment of around 1,000 students – became the smallest school to earn a Division I tournament victory.

“We just did a great job, and we made history and it’s such a great feeling,” said PC head coach Alaura Sharp. “And I’m so proud of our our players, and I’m so proud of our community for really rallying around us. The Blue Hose nation was deep up there and that means so much to our program. When you create a vision when you take over a program and just start seeing your vision come to life, it’s the most rewarding feeling, and I am forever grateful for this moment and this memory that will be etched in us forever.”

PC’s Bryanna Brady, Mara Neira and head coach Alaura Sharp (left to right) during Wednesday’s post-game media conference.

The Blue Hose led all but 34 seconds of the game, using the same trademark defense that carried them to the Big South Conference Tournament championship with wins over No. 1 High Point and No. 3 Radford.

PC led by as many as 14 points late in the second quarter and led by 12 points with 6:42 left in the third quarter before the Pioneers (24-10) put together a 9-0 run to cut the lead to 33-30 over the next 6:41.

A foul on Tilda Sjökvist with .3 seconds left in the period led to a pair of free throws and a 45-40 lead at the end of the third quarter.

While Sacred Heart kept the PC lead to single digits in the fourth quarter, the Blue Hose never faltered.

The Pioneers dominated the offensive boards, scoring 15 second-chance points off of as many offensive rebounds, but PC held them off over the final period.

Sacred Heart leading scorer Ny’Ceara Pryor, who was held to 1 point in the first half, hit a pair of free throws with 27.8 seconds to play to cut PC’s lead to 45-42.

PC’s Mara Neira (10) – file photo

But Mara Neira, who scored a game-high 14 points, hit a pair of free throws with 26.1 seconds to go to stretch the lead to 47-42 and Paige Kindseth hit a pair with 5.2 seconds left to make the final 49-42 and dash Sacred Heart’s hopes of advancing.

Neira scored 12 of her 14 points in the first half, including 8 in the second quarter and a back-to-back three-point play and 3-pointer that extended PC’s lead to 25-11 with 3:07 left before halftime.

“We realized what was working in the screen game, and that’s how I got my points and it kept me going,” Neira said.

Sixth-year senior Bryanna Brady finished with 12 points as the Blue Hose outscored Sacred Heart in the paint 24-16.

Pryor led the Pioneers with 12 points, and Sierra Johnson added 10, but Sacred Heart hit just 3 of 23 (13%) from 3-point range.

PC also struggled from beyond the arc, hitting just 1 of 11 (9.1%) of their 3-point attempts.

“It was a really tough battle for 40 minutes,” said Sacred Heart head coach Jessica Mannetti. “A lot of the credit goes to Presbyterian. They came out really, really ready to start the game and did a really great job with their defensive game plan. I thought it was really different than one we had ever seen, and very smart, considering.”

Sharp said her team has to somehow shoot better in its second meeting with South Carolina and its third game at Colonial Life Arena this season.

“It’ll take a lot for us,” she said. “Even though South Carolina is undefeated, I think you still put together a game plan. You’ve still got to create some belief in your locker room and divide the game up into mini games – not look at the whole game as 40 minutes and beating South Carolina. You’ve got to focus on trying to string possessions together, win each three-minute game segment by segment, and keep it close.”




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