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December 9, 2012

WBB: Gamecocks lance Paladins

VIDEO: Dawn Staley

20121209-DawnStaley-CW from GamecockCentral.com on Vimeo.

Like the last three games, a rough start, but a comfortable victory.

And like the last nine games, a win.

South Carolina finished its pre-finals schedule at a glittering 10-0 with a 69-35 demolition of Furman on Sunday, sending the Gamecocks into their exam break. USC matched the program's best start to a season, and could finally turn its attention to the one non-conference game that had drawn the most attention in the preseason.

In 10 days, the Gamecocks get a chance for vengeance against the team that knocked them out of the NCAA tournament last season. There are different personnel on both sides, and a different location (Columbia instead of California). And it can only add to the hype that as of Sunday, the opponent was the top-ranked squad in the country.

Stanford is coming.

"It is a game that is a measuring stick," coach Dawn Staley said. "They're No. 1 in the country for a reason. We look forward to it."

Staley and her staff will work to devise a plan on stopping the No. 1 Cardinal, while the Gamecocks finish their exams. There are heady days ahead.

For Sunday, though, USC was content to enjoy the moment. The Gamecocks have played 10 games and won them all, quite an achievement for a team down to nine players, four of which who are in their first year with the Gamecocks.

"I think they play hard every time they step on the floor," Staley said. "I think we deserve to be 10-0, but we've got a big game coming in here to really measure where we are."

The game began sluggishly, Furman (3-5) not touching the rim on any of its first four shots and USC only converting one of its first seven field-goal attempts. But as it usually does, the Gamecocks' defense began a surge.

"We were missing some easy open shots," Ieasia Walker shrugged. "We picked up on the defensive end, which is what we we're usually good at."

Steals from Mitchell and Sancheon White opened a 15-4 lead, and the Gamecocks could afford to rest stalwarts Ashley Bruner and Aleighsa Welch. Wilka "Wi-Wi" Montout stroked three 10-to-15-footers for six of her eight first-half points while Mitchell battled inside for her eight.

Through it all, freshman Khadijah Sessions played stifling defense and helped hold Furman to a 22.7 percent shooting half. Well ahead at the break (37-20), USC didn't have much to sweat about in the second period.

More and more Furman turnovers became more and more USC points. The Gamecocks posted 31 points off Paladin mistakes and ended with nine blocks and 15 steals, several right under their basket when Furman had rebounded a missed USC shot.

Mitchell ended with 16, fearlessly attacking the rim, while Montout ended with 10. Welch had 11 and the Gamecocks' defense held Furman to a miserable 23.9 percent from the floor.

"(Staley) definitely wants me to take the outside shots," Montout said. "Since it was going in, I felt confident to take them."

Sessions had seven points with two assists, drawing oohs as she charged the lane, stopped on a dime, flipped a dribble behind her back and laid it in. That was impressive, although the Cam Newton-esque "Superman" pose after wasn't the best way to impress Staley.

But, another strong game despite USC going 1-of-15 from the 3-point line and having a couple of bad minutes at the start of each half. The Gamecocks remain perfect.

"Hard to get in the flow when you're not making shots," Staley said. "I thought it just took a few minutes for us to get the lay of the land, so to speak, and get comfortable with the way they were playing us."

Now for the big one.

"I think we're in a good position," Walker said. "We have some quality wins. We have a big test coming up against Stanford."

Box score

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