STARKVILLE, Miss. — Danielle Edwards endured three straight years of a lot of losses before finally getting a chance to play in the Big Dance. With every 3-pointer that splashed through the net in the fourth quarter, it was obvious the Clemson senior was ready for her opportunity.
Simone Westbrook scored 27 points, Edwards added 25 and ninth-seeded Clemson pulled away in the fourth quarter to beat No. 8 seed South Dakota 79-66 on Friday in the first round of the women's NCAA Tournament.
Edwards made four 3-pointers in the fourth quarter to turn a tight game into a fairly comfortable victory. She made 10 of 17 shots, including 5 of 9 from 3-point range.
"It was amazing," Edwards said. "Honestly, I was a little nervous in the first quarter. But once I started going to the basket and trusting my teammates I got a little comfortable. They did a great job of finding me."
Then she grinned.
"Once I hit the first one, I was calling for it whether I was open or not."
Clemson, which was in the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2002, won a tourney game for the first time in 18 years.
Clemson (20-12) trailed for much of the game until late in the third quarter, when Westbrook made a 3-pointer to give the Tigers a 47-45 lead. The Tigers never trailed again, partly because of Edwards and partly because South Dakota's shooting touch vanished.
Clemson had 10 steals, including four by Westbrook. On one play, she simply ripped away an inbounds pass on the baseline and made an easy layup to extend the Tigers' lead in the fourth quarter.
"As soon as they caught it we wanted to be in their mouth, making them uncomfortable," Westbrook said. "That's where we thrive. That's where we get our offense from is from our defense."
South Dakota (28-6) shot just 3 of 19 from 3-point range in the second half. The Coyotes were in the NCAA Tournament after earning the first at-large bid in Summit League history.
Hannah Sjerven led South Dakota with 17 points, 12 rebounds and six assists. South Dakota senior Allison Arens, who had 15 points, said Clemson did a good job getting the Coyotes out of rhythm.
"They put some really good ball pressure on us, they picked us up full court," Arens said. "We didn't see that a lot this season. We prepared for it, but sometimes you just can't prepare for things like that."
South Dakota shot 50 percent from the field in the first half to take a 35-31 halftime lead. Sjerven hit all five of her shots before the break to lead the Coyotes with 10 points.
South Dakota had a 44-36 lead in the third quarter when a rare technical foul hurt the team's momentum. The Coyotes were called for the technical after a substitution infraction.
Coyotes coach Dawn Plitzuweit said the referees told her that one of her players checked in while the ball was in play. Clemson made both free throws and scored on the next possession to cut into the Coyotes' lead.
Clemson: It's another great win in a remarkable season for the Tigers. Clemson was picked to finish near the bottom of the ACC, but has flourished under first-year coach Amanda Butler. Now the Tigers have won 20 games and will play again on Sunday.
South Dakota: The Coyotes looked unstoppable for parts of the first half, but couldn't hit a basket in the fourth quarter while Edwards got hot. South Dakota appears to have a decent shot to make the NCAA Tournament again next year considering it loses just one senior.