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Dec. 28, 2013

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COLUMBIA, S.C. – No. 13/12 South Carolina improved to 12-1 in non-conference action Saturday afternoon with an 82-40 win over Savannah State at Colonial Life Arena. The Gamecocks used a 14-3 run late in the first half to establish a 43-25 halftime lead and never looked back. Sophomore guard Tiffany Mitchell turned in a stellar all-purpose effort with 18 points, seven rebounds, four assists and a career-high five steals to pace the team. Junior Aleighsa Welch, sophomore Asia Dozier and freshman Alaina Coates joined her in double figures with 14, 10 and 17 points, respectively, with Coates wrapping up her third double-double of the season with 12 boards.

“I’m happy for Tiffany (Mitchell) because she works so hard,” South Carolina head coach Dawn Staley said. “She is always in the gym, and she wasn’t really getting a full return on being in the gym. Now she is, and she is more efficient at everything she does. She plays hard, and she always gets after it.”

The Lady Tigers kept it close early, but the Gamecock defense locked in midway through the first half, launching a 7-1 run that pushed the lead to double digits at 22-12 with 6:25 left in the period. Mitchell did a bulk of the damage at the free throw line, making six trips there, hitting three, and adding a floater in the lane to Dozier’s transition layup during the spurt.

Savannah State scored on consecutive possessions to get back within six, but a 14-3 Gamecock surge delivered the knockout punch. Olivia Gaines got things going with a jumper from the free throw line, and Welch added a pair of free throws. The junior forward swiped a steal and led the break down the court, feeding Gaines for a transition layup. Mitchell and Gaines combined to forced a turnover on the Lady Tigers’ next possession with Mitchell hitting a pair of free throws. She swiped another steal the next time up the floor, and Welch hit a transition layup to make it a 32-16 contest with 3:37 on the clock. Kenyata Hendrix hit a three from the left wing to stem the tide, but Coates came back with a bucket on the other end, and Mitchell added two more free throws to make it 36-19 just a minute later.

The Gamecocks took a 43-25 lead into the locker room behind 20-of-27 free throw shooting, highlighted by career high makes and attempts from Mitchell, who went 10-of-14 on the way to 12 points in the opening 20 minutes.

The second half started with the Gamecocks pounding the ball inside. Welch hit in the lane to start things off. After Elem Ibiam picked up a steal on the other end, she got the ball inside and through the double team found Tiffany Davis for a 3 from the top of the arc. Dozier picked up the steal on the Lady Tigers’ next trip up the floor and Mitchell led the break, finding Ibiam on the left block for her first field goal of the game. Welch continued the steal theme with a pick then got the ball back underneath, where she kicked out to Dozier for a 3 from the left corner and a 53-25 lead just two minutes into the half.

Several Gamecocks posted career-high efforts, including Welch with a team-high five assists. Davis netted a career-high eight points, and Gaines added one to her career high with seven points. South Carolina shot 51.1 percent from the field, topping the 50.0 percent mark for the eighth time this season, and made 30-of-48 from the free throw line for season highs in both makes and attempts.

The Gamecocks open SEC action on Thu., Jan. 2, traveling to Arkansas. South Carolina is back at home to play Vanderbilt on Sun., Jan. 5, at 1 p.m.