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Jan. 5, 2014

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COLUMBIA, S.C. – No. 13/12 South Carolina moved to 2-0 in conference play with a 76-66 win over Vanderbilt (12-3, 1-1 SEC) in SEC action Sunday afternoon in Colonial Life Arena. Freshman center Alaina Coates led the Gamecocks, recording her third-straight double-double with a career-high 24 points and 10 rebounds, both game highs. South Carolina (14-1, 2-0 SEC) shot 54.3 percent from the field, hitting 25 of its 47 shots, and the Gamecocks made it count from the free throw line as well, sinking 22 of their 27 chances, including 9-of-10 in the final five minutes to keep the Commodores from rallying.

“Feeding the ball inside to Alaina [Coates] and Elem [Ibiam] was exactly what we wanted to do,” Staley said. “Watching Vanderbilt on film and seeing what they had to offer, we just felt like our bigs would be able to get great looks in the paint. So, we wanted to pound it in there as much as possible and let them do their thing. We haven’t had the luxury of playing big and putting the ball down on the block to make people guard us. Elem and Alaina are only going to get better.”

Both teams played to their strengths in the first half with the Gamecocks going inside and the Commodores lining it up from the 3-point arc and traded the lead six times and were tied three times in the opening 11 minutes. Tied at 17-17 with just under nine minutes left in the half, the Gamecocks solved the Vanderbilt defense with relentless lobs over the top to Elem Ibiam and Coates.

The strategy launched a series of runs that combined for a 24-13 push that delivered an 11-point halftime lead. Ibiam and Coates combined for 19 of those points as the Commodores could not defend well-placed passes that led them right to the block for high-percentage shots. Tiffany Mitchell added a 3-pointer early and a transition layup late to complete the scoring. Defensively, South Carolina was also locked in late in the period, forcing seven turnovers and making the Commodores take contested long-range shots, which led to a 41-30 advantage at the break.

Vanderbilt tried to get something going early in the second half with back-to-back 3s and applying full-court pressure. South Carolina responded with a 9-0 run that started with an easy bucket from Ibiam after Welch and Dozier broke the press. Mitchell led the team in transition off quick outlets on defensive rebounds, hitting a layup on the first and finding Welch for a buck on the second. After another Vanderbilt misfire, Tiffany Davis drove the lane and got a tough shot to fall while getting fouled. Her completion of the traditional three-point play made it a 52-35 Gamecock lead just three minutes into the half.

The Commodores continued to pressure, though, and found some results as the Gamecock offense began to cool with a shorter shot clock once getting across halfcourt. Fouls began to pile up for the Gamecocks as well, leaving key contributors on the bench to deal with the pressure. Vanderbilt cut into the lead slowly but steadily as South Carolina scored just six points over the next eight and a half minutes. Defensively, the Gamecocks held firm, though, allowing the Commodores to just close to 10 at 60-50 with 8:45 to play.

Redshirt sophomore Tina Roy looked to stop the Vanderbilt surge with a 3 from the right corner, but Jasmine Jenkins answered with one from the left wing on the next possession. A pair of free throws from Christina Foggie brought the Commodores within eight with just over seven to play. From there, the Gamecocks rediscovered their bread and butter and began finding Coates again deep in the paint.

With Commodores persisting, the Gamecocks continued to defend against 3-pointers while salting away the game at the free throw line. South Carolina hit a season-high 81.5 percent from the stripe, including Welch and Mitchell combining for 9-of-10 in the final five minutes of the victory.

Every Gamecock who entered the game scored at least two points with Mitchell and Ibiam joining Coates with 19 and 11 points, respectively. Asia Dozier again paced the team with five assists, but three other Gamecocks handed out at least three in the game as South Carolina assisted on 19 of its 25 field goals.

South Carolina is back in action at Colonial Life Arena on Thu., Jan. 9, at 7 p.m. against No. 6/6 Kentucky.