GREENWOOD, S.C. - As she sat in the postgame news conference with gauze in her nose, Dana Richter showed that USC Aiken had taken North Florida's best shot.
The top-seeded Lady Pacers held the fourth-seeded Lady Ospreys to 31 percent shooting and rolled over North Florida 63-42 in the first round of the Peach Belt Conference Tournament at Finis Horne Arena.
"We were great defensively tonight," Richter said. "We didn't let them get any open looks off their sets. Most of their points came off of offensive rebounds, which we've struggled with all year. Offensively we were awful but found a way to win."
One of those ways was with Richter's defense. The senior guard smothered North Florida's second-leading scorer, Leigh Gaudy, holding her scoreless and forcing five turnovers.
Richter's reward? An elbow to the nose late in the game.
"Jami's (Cornwell) real good about calming me down," Richter said. "I was trying to keep my hands off her. It didn't even cross my mind. OK, maybe it crossed my mind a little bit."
With the win, the Lady Pacers (21-6) will face Georgia College & State at 1 p.m. Friday in the semifinals. USC Aiken defeated the Lady Bobcats on the road 73-69 on Feb. 24.
The Lady Pacers scored the first nine points of the game and never trailed. They led 15-5 after a Mary Wooley layup with 10:37 left before halftime.
But Allia McLeod swished a 17-foot jumper to cap an 11-4 North Florida run as the Lady Ospreys pulled to within three points late in the half.
Telma Ferreira made two free throws. Cornwell canned an 18-foot baseline jumper. Allison Nold added a layup. The Lady Pacers were up by nine and held a 25-18 lead at the break.
Julie Szabo opened the second half with a layup and a 3-pointer as USC Aiken increased their lead to 12. The Lady Pacers defense held North Florida to three field goals the first 9:39 of the second half.
The win gave the Lady Pacers their third tournament win since 1992. It also helped erase memories of last year's 87-48 loss to Columbus State.
In the latest South Atlantic Region rankings, USC Aiken is No. 6. Coach Phil Stern said he believes his Lady Pacers can earn an NCAA Tournament bid by winning in the semifinals and advancing to the championship game.
"I'm not worried about it," Stern said. "It's very much out of our control. But I'll go on record and say that if we make it to the finals against Columbus State and we've already won the North Division and don't make it to the NCAA Tournament, then there's something wrong."
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