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December 21, 2012
VIDEO: Dawn Staley
Nobody was surprised.
South Carolina couldn't hold onto the ball and couldn't put it in the basket when it did hold onto the ball. There was nothing wrong with the No. 21 Gamecocks' intensity or effort - the execution, though, was horrendous.
USC woke up at the end of the first half, turning a five-point game into a 12-point lead and then turning that into a 20-point advantage early in the second half. The Gamecocks wound up whipping S.C. State 65-45 on Friday.
Coach Dawn Staley threw up her hands. What else was expected, after a four-point loss to No. 1 Stanford just 38 hours before tip?
"It's hard. When you're playing the No. 1 team in the country and you play them pretty tight and you have a chance of winning, there's somewhat of a letdown," Staley said. "But they're players. It's kind of hard to maintain. But we escaped with the win, and we'll take it."
A turnover-marred first 15 minutes turned into a solid end of the half, then a strong surge to open the second. USC finished decently, but had more than enough to win big, and somewhat answered a question.
Yes, the Gamecocks could deal with the "big-game hangover" and win the next one. It wasn't the prettiest game to watch, and it wasn't against the kind of competition that USC will later face.
But it won, and heads into an eight-day Christmas break with an 11-1 record. Not too much to complain about.
"We had to bounce back quick from the game on Wednesday," Aleighsa Welch said. "To have that extra time to kind of rest your body. We took a couple of extra minutes to get our legs under us."
Tiffany Mitchell shook off a bad game against the Cardinal by scoring a career-high 21 points, carrying USC in the first half. Welch notched her sixth double-double of the year with 16 points and 14 rebounds. Elem Ibiam was 4-of-5 from the field for 11 points and while Ashley Bruner only scored one point, she had eight rebounds, four assists and two blocks.
Mitchell stood out, though, rising from a 1-of-13 performance against Stanford to finish 5-of-11 from the field on Friday. She stroked nine free throws in 12 attempts and also had 11 rebounds.
"I was worried that I kind of had a slow start in the Stanford game and couldn't really get into a rhythm," Mitchell said. "It was a bad game for me. I knew I had to respond this game."
"Tiffany goes hard," Staley said. "Got to take her for what she brings to the table. She's not a lazy person at all. I think she feels really bad that she didn't perform as well as she would like against Stanford. But that's the kind of thing that makes a player grow."
USC was able to overcome 20 turnovers by forcing 22, and shot 44 free throws, making 27. The disparity in fouls (S.C. State had 33 to USC's 11, and had three players foul out while three more each had four fouls) had S.C. State coach Doug Robertson a little testy afterward as he pointed out how physical the game was played on both sides.
The Gamecocks weren't as sharp, but they found a way to get a comfortable win. Staley has 11 wins in her first 12 games, and prepared to send her players off for Christmas, although it won't all be family and presents.
USC returns to Columbia on Dec. 26. It has one more non-conference game against Western Carolina on Dec. 29, then begins SEC play on Jan. 3. That will be another big-time game - No. 10 Tennessee visits Colonial Life Arena.
"We want them to enjoy the time off, but they are going home with a couple of workouts," Staley said. "It's hard to drop everything and then come back on the 26th ready to go. We've got to keep them in playing mode, because it's hard to get it back up there. We don't want to lose what we put in so far."
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