The No. 7 Gamecocks (19-2, 7-1 SEC) used a 21-1 run to take control against Ole Miss (10-12, 1-7) and cruised to a 99-70 win Thursday night at the Colonial Life Arena.
Leading by a single point with seven minutes left in the first half, South Carolina would score 19 of the final 20 points of the half. The Gamecocks pushed the ball on every change of possession, creating easy baskets for the post trio of Elem Ibiam, Aleighsa Welch, and Alaina Coates. The Gamecocks also made all nine of their free throw attempts during the run, something that is never a guarantee for this team.
The run gave South Carolina a 44-25 halftime lead. Out of the break, Asia Dozier made a jumper to cap off a 21-1 run. By the time Valencia McFarland made a layup for Ole Miss, it had been nearly nine minutes between field goals for the Rebels. During the stretch, Ole Miss was 0-10 from the floor with two turnovers.
"We just had to make sure we stayed calm and put more pressure on defense," Coates said.
An early 8-0 run gave the Gamecocks the lead for good. With the game tied at four, Tiffany Mitchell and Khadijah Sessions scored on fast break layups, and Welch added a pair of short jumpers. While the lead would last the rest of the game, the Gamecocks had to work to protect it.
The Rebels slowly chipped away at the lead, mounting a 12-4 run to close to within 25-24 with seven minutes left in the first half. During the stretch, the Gamecocks were unable to get defensive stops. When they did force a miss, the Rebels were able to get offensive rebounds to prolong possessions. The Rebels finished the game 15 offensive rebounds and 16 second chance points, but once the Gamecocks began to limit those second chance points they went on the run.
"We talked about how Ole Miss likes to even the playing field through hustle plays and getting offensive rebounds," said head coach Dawn Staley. "That's how they got themselves back into the game."
South Carolina continued its hot shooting in the second half, stretching the lead to 34 at one point. South Carolina shot 60.8 percent from the floor for the game, but was able to protect its lead so easily because of free throw shooting.
The Gamecocks entered the game making 65 percent of their free throws. Against the Rebels, they made 78 percent. The 32 made free throws tied for the most made during the Dawn Staley era.
Coates in particular made the most of her trips to the stripe. She came into the game making 62 percent of her free throws, but was lights out against the Rebels. She made 8-10 free throws on her way to matching her career-high of 24 points. Coates also pulled down 12 rebounds for team highs in both categories, notching her fourth double-double in conference play. She said after the game that her goal is to be SEC Freshman of the Year.
"I hear it all the time," said Coates, who has won SEC Freshman of the Week three times. "I want it and I'm going to keep working for it."
Ibiam had 14 points, eight rebounds, and five blocks before fouling out midway through the second half. Mitchell had 15 points and eight assists. Tiffany Davis looked as comfortable as she has all season and set a career-high with 11 points. Welch added 11 points for the Gamecocks, who had six players in double figures.
"It was a great efficient game where we found the open player," Staley said. "People really took advantage of what Ole Miss' defense gave us."
South Carolina returns to action Sunday against Missouri. Tipoff is at 3pm at Colonial Life Arena.
Attendance for the game was announced as 5,344... Sessions had perhaps her best game since returning from injury, finishing with 11 points and three assists... The 99 points scored tied for the most in a game under Staley. USC also scored 99 earlier this season against Charleston Southern. USC has not topped the century mark since 2008... Valencia McFarland led Ole Miss with 24 points... South Carolina had 22 assists and 11 turnovers... Ole Miss head coach Matt Insell called South Carolina the best team Ole Miss has played this season.