MOUNT VERNON – Cornell used its strength and size inside to power past St. Scholastica, 76-54, in the first round of an NCAA Division III Women's Basketball Regional Friday night in the Small Multi-Sport Center.
The 10th-ranked Rams (25-1) made an impressive NCAA debut before a near-capacity crowd, which saw the home team dominate the boards, 58-30, and lead the final 33 minutes of the contest.
Cornell celebrated its first NCAA Tournament basketball win since Paul Maaske's men's team won a third-place regional game in the 1961 Division II Tournament.
Cornell carries a 17-game home winning streak into a second-round regional matchup with St. Thomas (23-5) at 7 p.m. Saturday in Mount Vernon. The Tommies, who finished third at nationals a year ago, advanced with a come-from-behind 64-62 victory over fifth-ranked Calvin (23-4).
Saturday's winner earns a berth in the Sectional Round of 16 on March 8-9 at a site to be determined.
Sophomore Rikki Mulloy paced the Rams with 19 points and connected for three of the team's eight three-point goals. But the Rams did the bulk of their work down low, outscoring St. Scholastica 38-12 in points in the paint and collecting 21 offensive rebounds.
The Rams received strong play off the bench from freshmen posts Larissa Brewer and Maggie Hogen. The 6-foot-3 Brewer tallied eight points and five rebounds, while Hogen corralled eight rebounds in only 11 minutes of work.
Freshman Kellie Kuzmanic distributed eight assists, tying the school's single-season mark with 114. She also delivered 11 points and six rebounds. Kathryn Schilling added five points, three assists and a pair of steals.
St. Scholastica (13-15) took an early 9-6 lead four minutes into the game. India Pearce tied it with a three-pointer, and then the Rams went ahead to stay on back-to-back buckets from Brewer and Mulloy. The Saints hit a buzzer-beating three to pull within 37-29 at halftime.
The Rams broke the game open with an 11-2 spurt midway through the second half, capped by a Kuzmanic layup that put Cornell up 55-36 with 9:38 to go. The Saints never got closer than 15 points.
Saturday's game features a pair of hot teams riding 10-game winning streaks. The Rams' tightest game during the stretch was a 63-52 championship victory over Monmouth in the Midwest Conference Tournament. St. Thomas, tournament champions of the Minnesota Intercollegiate Athletic Conference, is 38-19 all-time in 20 NCAA Tournament appearances.