The Clemson women’s basketball team will continue its amazing season under first-year head coach Amanda Butler when it plays No. 1 seed Mississippi State tonight (9 p.m.) in the second round of the NCAA Tournament’s Portland Regional at Humphrey Coliseum in Starkville, Miss.
The Tigers (20-12) are coming off a 79-66 victory over No. 8 seed South Dakota in the first-round. The No. 9 seed Tigers got 27 points from Simone Westbrook and 25 from Dani Edwards to win their first NCAA Tournament game since 2001.
Clemson had not played in the NCAA Tournament since the 2002 season prior to Friday’s game.
At the beginning of the year, the Tigers were originally picked to finish 15th and 14th in the ACC by the Blue Ribbon Panel and Coaches, respectively. Finishing the regular season in seventh place, the Tigers tied the 2014-’15 Pitt team for the highest finish above predicted place in ACC history.
Clemson’s come-from-behind win against South Dakota on Friday saw the Tigers shoot an efficient 47 percent from the floor, while forcing 17 turnovers on the defensive side of the ball. Clemson tabbed 22 points off turnovers and outscored South Dakota 15-2 in the fast break. The Tigers thrived from deep, sinking nine 3-pointers, including a 6-of-11 showing from beyond the arc in the second half.
Edwards matched her career-high with five 3-pointers on the evening and hauled in eight rebounds.
Now the Tigers take on a Mississippi State program that has been the national runner-up in each of the last two seasons, including a buzzer-beater loss to Notre Dame in last year’s national championship game.
The Bulldogs (31-2) cruised in its first-round game, crushing No. 16 Southern 103-46 in the opening round.
Mississippi State, who has won nine straight games, boasts the second-highest scoring offense in the nation, pouring in an average of 86.6 points per game. Outscoring their opponents by an average of 29.2 points per contest, the Bulldogs lead the nation in scoring margin.
On the defensive side of the ball, the team ranks second among NCAA Division I teams in rebounding margin (13.2) and eighth in the nation in blocked shots (177).
SEC Player of the Year Teaira McCowan is a force to be reckoned with for the Bulldogs inside. The center ranks in the top 10 in the nation in double-doubles (28-4th), field-goal percentage (65.4-4th), offensive rebounds per game (6.0-1st) and rebounds per game (13.6-2nd).
What to watch for
The Tigers have not advanced to the Sweet Sixteen of the NCAA Tournament since March 20, 1999 after besting Florida A&M and Illinois in the first two rounds.
With a win today, Clemson will match the most wins since 2001 (21). This year is Clemson’s first 20-win season since 2001 as well.
Senior Aliyah Collier is one rebound away from moving into the top 10 in program history for career rebounds. One rebound will tie her with Quinyotta Pettaway (675) for 10th.
–Clemson Athletic Communications contributed to this story