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Feb. 2, 2014

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COLUMBIA, S.C. – With six Gamecocks in double figures for the second game in a row, No. 7/8 South Carolina shot past Missouri 78-62 Sunday afternoon at Colonial Life Arena. The Gamecocks (20-2, 8-1 SEC) reached the 20-win plateau in front of a season-high crowd of 7,828, the sixth-best women’s basketball crowd in Colonial Life Arena history.

After starting the game down by three, the Gamecocks put up eight unanswered points, started by Aleighsa Welch’s jumper off her own offensive rebound. South Carolina converted back-to-back three-point plays from Elem Ibiam and Tiffany Mitchell to go ahead 8-3 less than four minutes into the game.

Leading 8-5, South Carolina launched a 10-2 run over the next four minutes, bookending the run with 3-pointers by Asia Dozier, building the lead to 18-7 with 11:44 left in the first period. Defensively, three Missouri turnovers contributed to the surge, which included points in the paint from Welch and Ibiam as well.

The Tigers rallied, chipping away at the Gamecock lead with solid defensive rebounding and better shot selection until they were within six at 25-19 with 6:45 remaining in the half.

With a renewed urgency, South Carolina locked in on the defensive end, holding Missouri scoreless for just over four minutes while pushing the tempo on offense to sprint to a 39-19 lead with under three minutes left in the half. Khadijah Sessions and Ibiam combined for nine of the 14, including five from the free-throw line, while Alaina Coates added a bucket from each block to cap the run.

The Tigers started scoring again, but could not stop the Gamecocks, who closed the half on a 6-0 run, including four points from Sessions, to take a 48-25 lead into the locker room at halftime.

Welch started the Gamecocks off in the second period with a turnaround jumper, extending the lead to 25, but Missouri began lining up 3-pointers to knife into South Carolina’s advantage with a 15-3 as the defense forced four Gamecock turnovers and the offense hit three 3-pointers and a traditional three-point play from Bri Kulas to make it a 53-40 game with 13:05 to play.

Buoyed by the boisterous crowd, the Gamecocks responded with the next nine points. Coates started the run with a basket on the low block then snagged a defensive rebound on the other end. Mitchell added the next five points with a 3-pointer from the left side and a layup off her own steal to put the Gamecocks back up by 20. Welch finished off the spurt with a free-throw line jumper, making it a 62-40 lead with 8:57 to play.

The Tigers had one more run in them, but South Carolina was able to ebb their offensive flow again as Mitchell’s second 3-pointer of the game squelched a 10-3 surge that brought them within 15 points at 67-52 with 5:30 to play. Missouri tried to keep it going by sending the Gamecocks to the free throw, but South Carolina made just enough to stay in front and secure their 20th win of the season.

All five starters and Coates off the bench were in double figures, accounting for all 78 of the Gamecocks’ points on the afternoon. Mitchell led the way with 20, while Sessions and Coates added 13 each. Welch and Dozier netted 11 each, and Ibiam rounded out the group with 10. Mitchell just missed her second double-double of the season with nine rebounds to go with three assists and four steals. Sessions showed great vision all day with six assists and four steals.

South Carolina is back on the road on Thu., Feb. 6, at Mississippi State, then returns to Colonial Life Arena for a Sunday game against Arkansas.