Dec. 22, 2015
COLUMBIA, S.C. — No. 2/2 South Carolina wrapped up its pre-holiday schedule with a 78-63 win over Elon Tuesday night at Colonial Life Arena. The Gamecocks’ trio of Alaina Coates, Tiffany Mitchell and A’ja Wilson scored all 21 of the team’s third-quarter points to pull way from the Phoenix, who kept the game within reach throughout the first half. Turnovers cost Elon crucial possessions in the third, and South Carolina (12-0) capitalized then and into the fourth quarter to pull away down the stretch.
The Gamecocks got off to a slow start against a quick-firing Elon squad that built a six-point lead with great work on the glass and efficient shooting. Trailing 4-10 six minutes into the game, the Gamecocks went to Mitchell, who drove the baseline and converted a traditional three-point play to cut the lead in half. A Coates putback made it a one-point game, but the Phoenix answered with a Lauren Brown 3-pointer and eventually carried an 18-13 lead into the second quarter.
South Carolina’s field goal percentage improved in the second quarter, hitting 66.7 percent (10-of-15) in the second 10 minutes, although the Phoenix also netted 6-of-12 during the period. After Elon scored the first basket of the period to take a 20-13 lead, the Gamecocks got on track with a Khadijah Sessions 3 from the left corner. Asia Dozier answered an Elon bucket with a runner in the lane then took a charge on the other end to get the ball back. Mitchell’s 3 from the left corner brought the Gamecocks within a point and a defensive stand let them take the lead at 23-22 on a great out-of-bounds play for Wilson.
The advantage was short-lived, though, as Malaya Johnson answered quickly with a long jumper. Tied at 25-25 with 5:15 left in the half, Coates scored on another putback to start a 10-2 run that included three Elon turnovers and established a 35-27 lead with 1:57 to play in the period. The Phoenix had a final push, though, and cut that lead in half to 31-35 at the break.
South Carolina wasted little time going to its big three ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢’Â¬” Coates, Mitchell and Wilson ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢’Â¬” in the third quarter, and the trio accounted for all 21 points in the period. The Phoenix shot the ball efficiently in the period, but took just 10 shots to South Carolina’s 18, and the Gamecocks added 5-of-7 free throws to establish a 56-47 lead heading into the fourth. The lead came after a Jenifer Rhodes transition layup knotted the game at 41-41. Mitchell answered with a 3 from the left wing to kick off an 8-0 run aided by four straight Elon turnovers. Trailing 49-41, the Phoenix looked to rally, scoring four straight points after a Gamecock turnover, but once again Mitchell turned them way with a 3-pointer off an out-of-bounds play. Wilson blocked a shot on the next possession, and Coates hit quickly from the left block beating Elon’s frontcourt to the lane to close out the period.
The fourth quarter opened with a drive from Brown, but the Gamecocks forced a pair of turnovers and scored on three straight possessions, including back-to-back 3s from Tina Roy to establish a 63-49 lead from which the Phoenix would not recover.
Mitchell, Coates and Wilson all finished in double figures, posting 18, 16 and 12 points, respectively. For the third time in four games, Mitchell shot 3-of-6 from 3-point range. Coates and Wilson tied for team-high honors with eight rebounds each. Sessions’ four assists were a team high as well.
Head Coach Dawn Staley
On Tiffany Mitchell making plays during key moments in the game
“Really good players have a sense of when they need to make shots and stop a run by our opponents. Tiffany [Mitchell] is one that has been in that situation for the last two years for us. Our coaching staff has great comfort in knowing that she has that knack for making big shots when we need them.”
After Elon tied the game at 41-41 with 7:10 left in the third quarter, the South Carolina defense forced four straight turnovers to go on a 10-2 run that put the Gamecocks on top for good.
Elon shot 60.0 percent in the third quarter but got just 10 shots off in the period as the Gamecocks caused six turnovers and controlled the glass 12-4 for the first time in the game.
- South Carolina improved to 12-0, repeating last season’s pre-holiday record as the best in program history. The 2014-15 team went on to win 10 more games before suffering its first loss.
- The Gamecocks shot a season-best 42.1 percent (8-of-19) from 3-point range, including 3-of-3 shooting from senior Tina Roy and 3-of-6 accuracy from Tiffany Mitchell.
- Mitchell scored a season-high 18 points for the second-straight game and the third time this season. She shot 12-of-24 from the field over the last two games, including 4-of-9 from 3-point range.
- Junior center Alaina Coates narrowly missed her fourth-straight double-double, grabbing eight rebounds to go with her 16 points.
- Coates, Mitchell and Wilson netted all 21 of South Carolina’s third-quarter points with Coates and Mitchell each recording eight in the period.
- South Carolina shook off a 13-point first quarter to get back on its scoring average with 22, 21 and 22 points in the remaining quarters, respectively.
- In her third-straight start, senior Asia Dozier added seven points and three assists to a defensive effort that included two drawn charges.
The Gamecocks are off until Sun., Jan. 3, when they open SEC play against Arkansas. Tipoff at Colonial Life Arena is set for 3 p.m. with the game airing on ESPNU. It will be the second time in three seasons South Carolina has opened league play against the Razorbacks.