When freshman Kelsey Bone walked into to the locker room after South Carolina's 63-49 victory against Auburn on Sunday afternoon at Colonial Life Arena, she wrote the Gamecocks' record on the chalkboard.
That seems of little significance until you realize USC has matched last season's overall victory total and surpassed the two wins they recorded in the SEC.
South Carolina (10-7, 3-2) has a three-game winning streak in the SEC for the first time since winning four in a row near the end of the 2005-06 season.
"I remembered the record from last year obviously, because I was being recruited here so it kind of felt good to see the tide changing and to know we have three SEC wins and 10 wins on the season," Bone said. "It felt really good. I wanted everybody to know we are making progress and making movement."
USC coach Dawn Staley echoed the thoughts.
"Anytime you are able to get three wins in this conference, because we didn't get to this point last year, feels really good," Staley said. "It feels good by the way we're winning. We're playing more disciplined basketball. I think we are outhustling people to get the wins."
It's the largest margin of victory for USC in the SEC since a 79-51 against Florida on Jan. 25, 2007. The victory against the defending SEC champion Tigers sends a message in the conference. Auburn beat No. 11 LSU on the road a week ago.
"They are so different than they were last year," Auburn coach Nell Fortner said. "They push the ball so much harder and attack the basket so much more than they ever have."
The Gamecocks never trailed and got contributions from several different players at key times.
Bone spent much of her time going against Auburn's 6-foot-7 KeKe Carrier. She came in as the reigning SEC Player of the Week, but Bone - along with Jewel May, Charenee Stephens and Ashley Bruner - helped contain her. Carrier finished with 14 points and seven rebounds, but that was offset by Bone's 15 points and nine rebounds.
That helped USC outscore the Tigers 32-26 in the paint.
"I've never played anyone that size, so for me it was something new," the 6-5 Bone said. "Being able to come off the dribble and face her up and attack her a little bit (was a big key)."
Valerie Nainima was the benefactor when the defense of Auburn (11-7, 2-3) collapsed inside to slow down Bone. Nainima hit two 3-pointers in the final 34 seconds of the first half to give USC a 28-19 lead at the break. She then hit 4-of-5 in the second half to finish with a game-high 20 points as the Gamecocks lead was never dipped below seven points and was as large as 22.
During one key second half stretch, Nainima hit a 3-pointer on three straight possessions to make it a 20-point game.
"I'm not used to shooting shots that wide open," Nainima said. "I knew coming in that I had to make the shots, because they have a very big presence because of KeKe. So I knew I had to contribute outside."
South Carolina also protected the ball. They turned it over a season-low 11 times and out-rebounded the taller Tigers by a 38-31 margin. They now hit the road for two games starting with a return date against LSU on Thursday. The Tigers won 70-58 in Columbia on Jan. 3.
"We've been averaging 20-plus turnovers, but we did a tremendous job of taking care of the basketball," Staley said. "We have to keep our young team focused on the task at hand."
Auburn 49, USC 63
3-pointers: Auburn 1-5 (Smalley 1-3, Alverson 0-2). USC 8-15 (Nainima 6-9, Sutton 2-3, Kennedy 0-1, Walker 0-2). Turnovers: Auburn 12, USC 11. Officials: Denise Brooks, Bruce Morris, Doug Cloud. A: 4,137.