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Jan. 19, 2014

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COLUMBIA, S.C. – Inside play and solid ball movement that led to 25 assists on 30 made baskets drove No. 8/8 South Carolina (17-2, 5-1 SEC) past Alabama (8-10, 1-4 SEC) 77-51 in front of the sixth-largest crowd in Colonial Life Arena history Sunday afternoon. Center Elem Ibiam led the Gamecocks with 18 points and seven rebounds, and forward Aleighsa Welch notched her second-straight double-double with 12 points and 10 rebounds.

“I think we had to figure out how to get our bigs the ball, even when a team is playing a zone and they are crowding our bigs down low,” South Carolina head coach Dawn Staley said. “I thought we made a conscious effort to do that. Elem (Ibiam) got us started in the first half, and then Aleighsa (Welch) got going, and Alaina Coates came in and kind of finished it off. For us, it was a great team effort on both sides of the ball, and we need that type of effort every time we step on the floor.”

Looking to exploit their height advantage, the Gamecocks pounded the ball down low early and often. After a Tiffany Mitchell floater put South Carolina on the board, it was a heavy dose of Ibiam. As the Gamecocks established their play in the post, the junior center recorded the team’s next seven points for an early 9-4 lead.

South Carolina scored on 10 of its first 14 possessions, and a 16-3 run pushed the Gamecock advantage to 22-7 at the midway point of the first half. Ibiam, Welch and center Alaina Coates combined for nine of the points in the stretch as Carolina continued to work in the paint.

Alabama climbed back to within 10 at 22-12 with 9:13 remaining in the first half on a pair of free throws from forward Briana Hutchen, but would get no closer.

Over the next two minutes, South Carolina responded with a 3 from forward Wilka Montout and jumpers from Welch and guard Tina Roy to extend the lead back to 17.

With 4:32 to go, Mitchell set Asia Dozier up for her second 3 of the day, increasing the South Carolina lead to 20 points at 36-16.

Calculated ball movement allowed the Gamecocks to record 10 assists on their first 11 made baskets. Overall, South Carolina posted 13 assists on 17 made baskets in the first half. Mitchell was the main distributor, tallying seven in the first 20 minutes of the contest.

Out of the break, the South Carolina momentum continued. Ibiam asserted herself once again, scoring three of the first five South Carolina field goals.

Despite a handful of early second-half turnovers, the Gamecocks steadily increased their lead with the advantage climbing to 29 points at 60-31 seven minutes into the second half on a pair of free throws from Coates.

In the waning minutes of the game, Staley looked to her bench. Guard LeAnna Morrison and forward India Farmer logged playing time, and Farmer sank a 3 to make the score 77-49 with 30 seconds remaining as the Gamecocks cruised to the 77-51 victory.

South Carolina held a decided 43-24 advantage on the glass and turned 12 offensive rebounds into eight points.

Stingy Gamecock defense held the Crimson Tide to 27.3 percent from the field in the second half and just 32.8 percent for the game. South Carolina shot 51.7 percent from the floor, hitting 30 of its 58 shots. Ibiam’s 4-of-4 effort from the free throw line was a part of the Gamecocks’ stellar 10-of-11 overall performance with the 90.9 percent a season high.

After earning her first start for the Garnet and Black, guard Olivia Gaines’ scrappy play injected energy into the lineup, especially on the defensive end. She added three assists, four points and a steal.

After a week off, the Gamecocks continue conference play at Vanderbilt on Sun., Jan. 26, at 2 p.m. Coverage of the contest is set for ESPN2. South Carolina returns to Colonial Life Arena on Thurs., Jan. 30, to face Mississippi at 7 p.m.