The Gamecocks defeated North Greenville 96-35 Friday night in an exhibition game at the Colonial Life Arena. Aleighsa Welch had a strong game for the Gamecocks with 15 points, 9 rebounds and 7 assists.
Welch, the starting center last season, did most of her damage from the wing. Perpetually undersized during the Dawn Staley era, the Gamecocks spent the majority of the first half with a big lineup in which Elem Ibiam (6-foot-4), Alaina Coates (6-4) and Wilka Montout (6-3) handled the two post positions while Welch slid to the wing.
The lineup makes room for Coates, a McDonald's All-American, and gives more playing time to Ibiam, who has continued to improve as she begins her junior year. Both players scored 20 points to lead the Gamecocks and took advantage of their size on both ends of the court. Coates looked comfortable in her first collegiate action.
"I think I played pretty well for coming off the bench," Coates said. "I believe I gave enough energy and what coach was looking for.
"For my debut game, 20 points was much higher than I expected. I was just glad I was able to push points for my team."
The bigger lineup would not work unless Welch could make the transition outside. Staley challenged Welch in the off-season to increase her shooting range, and Welch obliged. She was able to score from outside, but more importantly Welch displayed impressive ability to lead the fast break, making smart passes or scoring for herself. Her 7 assists were nearly double her previous career high of four, and despite playing further from the basket she still led the team in rebounding.
"We've been trying to go with the big lineup," Staley said. "She's worked on her ball-handling, she's worked on her ability to shoot from the outside. We all know she can drive it and elevate over people. I think she looked good and I feel comfortable putting her out there and giving us a different look."
The game was never close. South Carolina led 48-10 at halftime, and North Greenville only reached double figures in the final minute of the half. In the second half the Gamecocks led by as much as 63 even as Staley called off the dogs. The Crusaders shot just 24% from the field while the Gamecocks shot 60 percent. South Carolina out-rebounded North Greenville 49-26 and forced 29 turnovers. After the game, Staley still complained about the effort, without a hint of irony.
"I was happy that we shot 60 percent," she said, "But it probably should have been in the 75-percent range."
Asked if she was happy with the defense, Staley said, "No."
The Gamecocks will open the season next Friday against Charleston Southern at 7 p.m.
Notes: Timisty Nelson led North Greenville with 9 points. Tiffany Mitchell added 19 for South Carolina. Tiffany Davis did not play due to a sore hamstring. In her first game action in a year, Tina Roy scored four points and had three rebounds and three assists. Roy tore her ACL last preseason.
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