Jan. 7, 2016
NASHVILLE, – No. 2/2 South Carolina used an 11-3 run in the final 3:28 to pull away from Vanderbilt for a 71-61 win at Memorial Gym Thursday night. Senior Tiffany Mitchell’s scoring kept the Gamecocks just in front of the Commodores late into the fourth quarter, and her assist and rebound down the stretch helped set up her teammates to seal the victory. Seniors Tina Roy and Khadijah Sessions added 3-pointers at key moments in the surge as South Carolina shot 45.5 percent from behind the arc.
The Gamecocks held the Commodores to just 25.0 percent shooting in the first quarter, but held just a five-point lead after the first 10 minutes as they struggled from the free throw line. Opening the second period with Mitchell on the bench after taking a hard fall in the first quarter, South Carolina saw Vanderbilt launch a 10-0 run aided by limited outside shooting by the Gamecocks.
Trailing 20-15 with 6:27 to play before halftime, South Carolina’s defense got its offense started as Sessions quickly completed a traditional three-point play after a Vanderbilt turnover. The Commodores answered with a Morgan Batey jumper at the end of the shot clock, but the Gamecocks were back on track. Asia Dozier hit a 3 from the left wing, and after Alaina Coates cleaned up a defensive rebound that set up Mitchell’s floater in the lane to put South Carolina up 23-21. The teams traded buckets over the final 4:23 to go into the locker room tied at 31-31.
Vanderbilt struck first out of the break, taking advantage of back-to-back Gamecock turnovers and great offensive rebounding to score the first six points of the half and take a 37-31 lead just 2:30 in the period. South Carolina went inside to Coates who hit the second of her two free throws, and Mitchell took over from there, hitting a 3 from the left wing then hitting a transition layup off an A’ja Wilson defensive rebound. Another Wilson board and a skip pass led to a Coates bucket from the left block and a 39-37 South Carolina lead less than 90 seconds later.
The Gamecocks forced four turnovers in the Commodores next nine possessions but converted just two of them into points. A Roy 3-pointer just before the end of the quarter broke a 46-46 tie, the eighth of the game, giving South Carolina a 49-46 lead going into the fourth quarter.
Early in the fourth quarter, it was all Mitchell for the Gamecocks, who had to shake off a pair of illegal screen calls on back-to-back possessions before Mitchell’s steal and layup sparked a 5-0 spurt that turned a one-point lead into a 57-51 edge with 6:15 to play. Marqu’es Webb used an up-and-under move to get an inside bucket to cut into the lead. After two empty possessions by both teams, a Christa Reed 3-pointer made it a one-point game at 57-56 with 4:17 to play.
Down the stretch, it was outside shooting that delivered the South Carolina victory. The frontcourt got things going as Wilson hit a free throw and Coates collected a key defensive rebound. Wilson had the ball on the left elbow and Roy came around her for the handoff and a quick-trigger 3-pointer for a 64-58 South Carolina lead. Webb answered with a traditional three-point play on the other end, but the Gamecocks were delivering at crunch time. Mitchell drove the lane, drawing the defense in, and kicked it Sessions in the left corner for another 3.
Vanderbilt looked to answer with another offensive rebound, but Wilson cleaned up the second shot to send the Gamecocks back on offense. Coates fought for a putback to make it 69-61 with 55 seconds to play. The Gamecocks struggled to hit free throws in the final minute, but the defense held up to deliver the victory.
Mitchell finished with 22 points, her first 20-point game of the season and dished out a team-high five assists. Coates posted her seventh double-double of the season with 11 points and 10 rebounds. Roy’s 13 points and Sessions’ 10 completed the four Gamecocks in double figures and included a combined six 3-pointers.
South Carolina’s defense locked down in the final 3:38 and the starting frontcourt of Alaina Coates and A’ja Wilson handled the defensive glass, allowing the offense to create separation down the stretch.
The Gamecocks shot 45.5 percent from 3-point range including 4-of-5 in the fourth quarter en route to 7-of-10 accuracy in the second half.
- South Carolina posted its third win of the season when tied or trailing at the half.
- Junior center Alaina Coates posted her seventh double-double of the season and her fourth in the last five games. She shot 83.3 percent (5-of-6) from the field, her eighth game this season hitting over 70.0 percent.
- Senior Tiffany Mitchell posted her first 20-point game of the season with 22 points, including 15 in the second half on 6-of-9 shooting and 2-of-2 from 3-point range. She has been the team’s top scorer in three of the last four games.
- The Gamecocks and Commodores exchanged the lead 18 times in the game, the most in a South Carolina game this season.
- Redshirt freshman Doniyah Cliney made her Gamecock debut, returning from November surgery on her right hand. She added two points in five minutes of action.
- South Carolina finished the game without a blocked shot, the first time that has happened since a 42-40 loss at Georgia on Jan. 13, 2013.
South Carolina Head Coach Dawn Staley
On what it took to win
“It’s always a barnburner when we play Vandy here. We came into the game knowing that it would take this kind of effort. We’ve got some great players that made great plays down the stretch time and time again. It boiled down to our most experienced players making plays because they’d been in that experience before.”
The Gamecocks host No. 20/- Missouri on Sun., Jan. 10, at noon at Colonial Life Arena in South Carolina’s fourth game this season against a nationally ranked opponent. Doors open at 10:30 a.m.