The NCAA women’s basketball tournament opened Wednesday afternoon in Columbia, S.C., featuring a battle between No. 16 seeds — the University of the Incarnate Word Cardinals and the Howard University Bison.
Spoiling UIW’s historic first appearance in the NCAAs, Howard prevailed when Brooklynn Fort-Davis hit a couple of layups in the final 1:20 to break open a close game, lifting the Bison to a 55-51 victory.
With the victory, Howard (21-9) will advance to play Friday against the South Carolina Gamecocks, the No. 1 overall seed in the women’s tournament. UIW (13-17) led by five points once in the first half and was in the game until the end.
Tiana Gardner led the Cardinals with 16 points and six rebounds. Jaaucklyn Moore had 14 points and five boards. Defensively, UIW played well, holding Howard star Destiny Howell to 4 of 17 shooting and 11 points.
But the Bison dominated with a 53-34 lead on the boards, including 22-2 on the offensive glass.
Fort-Davis led Howard with 15 points and 10 rebounds. Krislyn Marsh had 14 points and 17 rebounds. Both pulled down six offensive boards.
The winner moves on to play on Friday against South Carolina, the No. 1 overall seed in the women’s tournament.
For the first time in history, San Antonio-based UIW has reached the Division I women’s basketball tournament. They secured the bid by winning their first Southland Conference championship.
As the No. 5 seed, the Cardinals played the SLC tournament in Katy and defeated four teams in four days to win it all. They beat Nicholls State on Thursday, McNeese on Friday, Houston Baptist on Saturday and Southeastern Louisiana in the title game Sunday.
Tiana Gardner was named SLC tournament MVP following a 22-point performance with 12 rebounds in the championship game. Gardner pushed UIW into overtime with a pair of free throws, then secured the win with another pair from the charity stripe.
Destiny Terrell carried the Cardinals to the victory over McNeese with 24 points and 19 rebounds. She has pulled down 42 rebounds in the last four games. Jaaucklyn Moore, the SLC’s leading scorer in the regular season, hit a game-winning 3-pointer to lift the Cardinals to a 74-73 victory over Nicholls.
The Bison are playing in the NCAA ournament for the first time since 2001. They won the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference (MEAC) championship with a 61-44 win over Norfolk State in the championship game on Saturday. Howard limited three MEAC tournament opponents to fewer than 50 points. The Bison have won nine of their last 10 games. Howard is located in Washington, D.C.