With more than a third of the season complete, South Carolina coach Dawn Staley is about as pleased as she can be.
With Sunday’s 69-35 victory over Furman at Colonial Life Arena, the Gamecocks have matched the best start in school history with 10 straight wins.
The Gamecocks have won in a variety of ways, including the balanced effort they showcased against the Paladins. All nine players scored and all played at least 17 minutes. The defensive presence was there with a season-high 15 steals, and they held their eighth opponent to under 50 points.
Staley feels this team is right where it needs to be.
“I think this team doesn’t like to lose,” Staley said. “They also know they are going to play. When you feel like you are going to contribute in some way, it holds your attention. We still have to be a lot more disciplined as we come down to the meat of our schedule. But we’re 10-0, and I think we deserve to be 10-0 because we’ve outplayed people, but we have a big-game coming in here that will really measure where we are against the upper echelon of the country.”
USC will take the next nine days off for exams before top-ranked Stanford visits on Dec. 19. The same team that stopped the Gamecocks’ NCAA run last season in the Sweet 16.
With its first 10-0 start in 31 years, South Carolina has won on the road, with victories at Louisiana Tech and Seton Hall and won three games in three days at the Paradise Jam in the Virgin Islands.
“I think we are in a good position,” point guard Ieasia Walker said. “Our spirits are high, we’ve been winning, we have some quality wins against good competition, but now we have a big test coming up against Stanford. Right now, we just want to get our rest and once we start practicing again, we’ll start preparing for Stanford. It’s going to be a different level of basketball, but I think we’re ready for the challenge.”
The Gamecocks wasted little time in taking care of short-handed Furman. Behind four first-half steals from Walker, USC scored 19 of its 37 points off turnovers and finished with a 31-6 advantage in points off turnovers.
A 12-0 run over a five-minute span late in the half turned a single-digit lead into a 21-point advantage. Wilka Montout, scored six points during the run, and Khadijah Sessions added four to push the lead to 33-12 with 2:53 remaining in the half.
Tiffany Mitchell had half of her 16 points in the opening half, and Montout added eight of her 10 points before the break as the Gamecocks surged to a 37-20 halftime lead. They held the Paladins to 5-of-22 from the field in the first half and 11-of-46 for the game.
“They controlled the tempo of the game early, just with what they were doing from the defensive-standpoint,” Staley said. “They were daring us to take the outside shots. It’s hard to get into the flow when you aren’t making shots. It took us a few minutes to get the lay of the land, so to speak, and get comfortable.”
Furman (3-5) scored the first basket of the second half before USC ran off 11 straight points to salt things away for the second straight year against the Paladins. Last year, USC won by 39 points.
Aleighsa Welch was the only other player in double figures with 11 points for the Gamecocks. Mitchell matched Walker with five steals, and the substitutes nearly matched the starters in production.
“It’s pretty good that everyone gets a feel for the game and the experience since we are a young team,” Mitchell said. “Everyone being able to play, we need that as a team.”
Percentages: FG .239, FT 1.000. 3-Point Goals: 3-10, .300 (Griswold 1-5, Murphy 1-2, Thompson 1-2, Norwood 0-1). Team Rebounds: 5. Blocked Shots: 2 (Hodges, Reimer). Turnovers: 24 (Norwood 6, Murphy 5, Hodges 3, Wilkins 3, Bryan 2, Peterson 2, TEAM 2, Thompson 1). Steals: 0. Technical Fouls: None.
Percentages: FG .424, FT .632. 3-Point Goals: 1-15, .067 (Dozier 1-5, Session 0-3, Walker 0-3, Montout 0-2, White 0-1, Mitchell 0-1). Team Rebounds: 7. Blocked Shots: 9 (Montout 2, White 2, Bruner 2, Sessions, Dozier, Ibiam). Turnovers: 8 (Bruner 2, Walker 2, Mitchell 2, Sessions, Ibiam). Steals: 15 (Mitchell 5, Walker 5, White 3, Sessions, Bruner). Technical Fouls: None.
Att.–2,618. Officials–Laura Morris, Bruce Morris, Nick Marshall.