A sluggish start gave way to a blowout win as No. 12 South Carolina routed North Carolina Central 79-27. The Gamecocks used a 26-3 run midway through the first half to stay undefeated on the season and give head coach Dawn Staley her 100th win at South Carolina.
South Carolina had not played in a week and the rust showed early on. Leading only 8-4 five-and-a-half minutes into the game, South Carolina had already seen leading scorer Tiffany Mitchell take a seat after absorbing a hard foul and then watched Mitchell's replacement, Tina Roy, dribble a ball off her foot and stand around as the ball rolled to a stop just a couple of feet away.
When Mitchell returned she provided the spark needed for the Gamecocks. First, Mitchell found Alaina Coates open for a basket. Then Mitchell had consecutive steals and coast-to-coast layups. During the 26-3 run, Mitchell was everywhere. She tallied 12 points, three steals, two rebounds, and an assist during that run alone, and finished the game with 19 points, three steals, and three rebounds. Mitchell downplayed her explosion.
"(Staley) just told us to keep up the defensive pressure and things would fall into place, so that's what we did," Mitchell said.
Staley was more effusive of the sophomore guard, who scored her career-high 22 points last time out.
"Tiffany is in the process of trimming the fat off her game," Staley said. "Now she's more selective in the shots she is taking. She's seeing her numbers go up because she is more efficient."
The Gamecocks led 46-15 at halftime and stretched the lead to 50 by the midpoint of the second half. Most of the damage was done in the paint, thanks to a transition game that rarely allowed the Eagles to set their defense. USC finished the game with 40 points in the paint and 22 fast break points. Conversely, the Eagles had just one transition bucket. Carolina held the Eagles to just 16 percent shooting from the floor, and forced 16 turnovers leading to 19 points.
Staley began to empty the bench early, bringing in walk-on India Farmer for her most significant playing time. Every player that saw action scored. Farmer scored the first points of her career on a three-pointer with 22 seconds left in the game. Leanna Morrison also set career-highs in minutes played (12) and points (3). Olivia Gaines, a lightly used scholarship player, played a career-high 18 minutes and tied her best output with four points.
"A lot of those players that played at the end of the basketball game have to sit a lot," Staley said. "I was happy that everyone that entered the game scored and they looked like a team."
On the flip side, no starter played more than 20 minutes, and Mitchell did her damage in just 14 minutes of action. Aleighsa Welch had 13 points and four rebounds, but played just four minutes in the second half. Freshman Alaina Coates finished with 15 points and a team-high seven rebounds.
The win was Staley's 100th as the coach of the Gamecocks, the fourth coach in program history to reach that mark. She is the fastest to that mark in the SEC era and third fastest overall. It is a milestone that just a couple of years ago may have seemed farfetched, but back-to-back 25 win seasons have fast-tracked things.
"I always try to keep things in perspective," Staley said. "Five years ago we got ten wins and we couldn't see this day happening anytime soon."
Staley praised the players and assistant coaches for their contributions. Her players took pride in being a part of the mark, citing how far the program has come.
"It means a lot to us," Mitchell said. "I know the first couple of years she struggled and it's important for us to cherish this moment with her."
Notes: Tiffany Davis missed her second consecutive game with a left shoulder injury. She is listed as day-to-day... Mitchell is the only Gamecock to score in double figures in every game this season... Raquel Davis led the Eagles with 14 points and had six rebounds. She did most of her damage by getting to the charity stripe, where she made 8-10 free throws... Roy, who scored a season-high 11 against Southern Cal, had a poor shooting night Monday. However, her shooting stroke looked good and she contributed elsewhere with six rebounds and five assists... South Carolina had 20 assists on 31 made field goals... The Gamecocks are off until Sunday when they play at Charlotte at 2 p.m.
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