SAN ANTONIO (AP) South Carolina coach Dawn Staley got her 500th career victory when Aliyah Boston and the top-seeded Gamecocks beat Mercer 79-53 in the first round of the NCAA Tournament on Sunday.
Boston had 20 points and 18 rebounds for South Carolina (23-4), which grabbed the lead for good when it closed the first half with a 16-5 run. Victaria Saxton also scored 20 points in the Hemisfair Region game at the Alamodome.
The Gamecocks were national champs in 2017, when the Final Four was last played in Texas. They finished 32-1 last season, spent the final 10 weeks at No. 1 and Staley was the AP coach of the year, but didn't get a chance to win another title because the NCAA Tournament was canceled because of the pandemic.
Amoria Neal-Tysor had 15 points for Mercer (19-7). Jada Lewis added 14 points, and Shannon Titus finished with 12.
Staley is 328-102 in her 13 seasons at South Carolina, after going 172-80 in eight seasons at Temple. The SEC Tournament champion Gamecocks are in their ninth consecutive NCAA tourney, winning in the first round each time.
It was Boston's 28th double-double in 60 career games. The All-American forward from the U.S. Virgin Islands had 15 points and 10 rebounds at break. She made a 3-pointer at the buzzer, which came right after Lewis hit a 3 to end an 11-0 run by the Gamecocks.
After being down 11 points in the first quarter, Mercer opened the second with a 15-4 run. They got even at 27-all on a long jumper by Neal-Tysor, prompting a timeout by Staley, not long after Neal-Tysor had a steal and a breakaway layup.
Mercer opened the second quarter on a 15-4 run to tie the game, 27-27, but sophomore Aliyah Boston responded on the next possession with a layup and free throw to complete the three-point play and jumpstart a 16-5 run that saw juniors Victaria Saxton and Destiny Littleton score four points each, and Boston cap off the run with a 3-pointer at the buzzer to put Carolina in front for good.
The Gamecocks feasted inside on Sunday, outscoring the Bears 42-16 in the paint.
Tonight's win marks the 500th for Dawn Staley as a head coach. Of those victories, 328 have come during her time leading the Gamecocks, the most for any head coach in program history.
The Gamecocks dominated the boards yet again on Sunday, outrebounding Mercer 52-27, including a 21-9 advantage on the offensive glass. Carolina turned those 21 offensive boards into 23 second-chance points.
Sophomore Aliyah Boston wasted no time in her NCAA Tournament debut, scoring seven points in the first quarter and eight in the second to finish the first half with 15 points and 10 boards on her way to a 20-point 18-rebound double-double, her 16th of the season. Boston had nine offensive rebounds herself, tying the total for the entire Mercer team.
Junior Victaria Saxton locked in during the second quarter, scoring eight points in the frame on her way to tying her career high with 20 points. Saxton also pulled down six boards and blocked a shot as she tripled her previous high for minutes playing in a tournament game.
Sophomore Zia Cooke turned the heat up in the second half, scoring all 13 of her points after the break, including Carolina's last four points of the third quarter. Cooke also finished with three steals and three rebounds.
Sophomore Laeticia Amihere provided a spark off the bench early, dropping seven of her 11 points in the first quarter. Amihere also snagged eight rebounds in her NCAA Tournament debut.
The No. 1-seeded Gamecocks (23-4, 14-1 SEC) face the winner of the No. 8 Oregon State vs. No. 9 Florida State game.