INDIANOLA, Iowa – Kate Nielsen scored 28 points and Simpson tied a school record for points in an NCAA Tournament game, cruising past Westminster (Mo.) 91-58 in the first round of the NCAA Division III Women's Basketball Championship on Friday night at Cowles Fieldhouse.
The No. 12 Storm (26-2) will face No. 21 UW-Stevens Point (24-5) in the second round on Saturday, March 2 at 7 p.m. The winner advances to the Sweet 16.
The Pointers beat Concordia-Moorhead 72-64 in Friday's first game.
Playing in its first NCAA Tournament game at home since 2009, Simpson provided plenty of fireworks for the home crowd. Thanks to a suffocating defense that created open looks, the Storm made their first seven shots and led 12-0 before Westminster got on the board.
"We played really hard on defense and created some turnovers that got us some easy baskets early, got us on a roll and got the confidence going," head coach Brian Niemuth said. "I was really happy with the intensity today."
Nielsen added seven rebounds in only 21 minutes of play and no other Simpson starter played more than 18 minutes thanks to the comfortable lead.
Hannah Kloster and Sadie Theroff scored 12 points apiece to lead the Blue Juays (17-11), who won the St. Louis Intercollegiate Athletic Conference crown.
"I don't think we've played anybody with the firepower Simpson has," Westminster head coach Tracey Braden said. "They're tough."
A layup by Nielsen with 14:02 left in the first half gave Simpson a 24-13 lead and the Storm never saw their lead dip below double figures the rest of the way. Simpson led by 39 at one point in the second half and secured the program's largest margin of victory – 33 – in an NCAA Tournament game.
"We were comfortable from the start," Nielsen said. "When you come out with that much energy, good things happen."
Nicole Crisp added 12 points and Whitney Van Wyk led the reserves with 11 points on 5-for-5 shooting to help Simpson advance to the second round of the tournament for the third time in the last four seasons.
Simpson lost to UW-Eau Claire 69-61 in the first round of last year's tournament in Chicago.
"We've had a chip on our shoulder since last year, going to Chicago and losing in the first round," Crisp said. "We – and especially the seniors – wanted to come out and make a statement. We wanted to show that we don't want a Spring Break; we still want to be playing."
Friday marked the last day of classes for Simpson students before Spring Break, but a healthy contingent of the student body stuck around to support the team, which faces a familiar opponent in the second round.
Simpson lost to UW-Stevens Point on the road, 82-75 in the second round of the 2011 NCAA Tournament.
"We're on our floor now, so hopefully things will change," Niemuth said.
Tickets are open to the public beginning at 6 p.m. Saturday evening. Fans that can't make it in person can watch the game online at www.simpsonathletics.com.
Simpson and Westminster met for the first time on Friday ... the win gives Simpson 26 on the year, one shy of tying the school record of 27 set in 2007-08 ... Simpson improves to 10-12 all-time in the NCAA Tournament (13 appearances) ... the Storm tied the school record for points scored in an NCAA Tournament, set in 2007 when Simpson upset UW-Stout on the road, 91-86 before advancing to the program's first Sweet 16 ... the Storm are 0-2 all-time against UW-Stevens Point, with both losses coming in the 2010-11 season.