South Carolina was well on its way toward earning coach Dawn Staley’s 100th victory at the school, but wasn’t playing the way Staley wanted it to. The No. 12 Gamecocks were seeing inside passes get tipped away or swallowed by an N.C. Central team with only one player above 6-foot-1, and they weren’t being smart with their shooting.
So after a re-stressing of fundamentals during a timeout, USC went back to another Staley staple — defense. The Gamecocks turned up the pressure, and it fueled the jets in a 79-27 romp on Monday.
“I pretty much told them to settle down and do the things that got us here,” Staley said. “We still wanted to pound the ball inside and it didn’t really work out too well. Any time our post players touch the ball, they’re feeling a couple of extra hands. We have to do a better job of playing through that.”
USC (8-0) streaked past the Eagles (4-3) with 22 fast-break points in the first half, led by three steal-and-scores from Tiffany Mitchell. The Gamecocks pressed and trapped throughout the final 15 minutes of the first period as the hapless Eagles tried to move the ball through a tangle of arms, only to futilely chase a USC burglar as she sprinted toward the basket.
“She just told us to keep up the defensive pressure and things are going to fall into place, so that’s what we did,” Mitchell shrugged.
Ahead by 31 at halftime, USC forced a turnover and a shot-clock violation in its first two possessions of the second half. The only mystery was how large a margin of victory Staley’s 100th would have.
Games will get much tougher, with a road game against Charlotte next and a beach trip to play No. 18 North Carolina on the horizon, but Staley is happy with where her team is now. The Gamecocks have won their games by an average of 34 points.
It could be better, though.
“I think sometimes, we come out and we’re a little antsy and want to blow teams away,” Staley said. “We have to make adjustments.”
Mitchell started it with grand theft at midcourt and ensuing easy deuces, and nailed consecutive 3-pointers in the second half to open a 58-17 lead. She ended with a game-high 19 points, as Staley was able to clear the bench early.
Alaina Coates had 15 while Aleighsa Welch had 13. Everybody on the roster scored at least two points, and all but one had at least one rebound.
“It’s fun when everybody’s able to get in like that,” said Coates, who has been in double figures in six of her first eight games.
USC collected 20 assists on 31 field goals, and limited the Eagles to 12 points in the second half. Staley grabbed the milestone, and looked forward to more.
“It feels good,” Staley said. “I always try to keep things in perspective. Five years ago, we got 10 wins. Probably couldn’t see this day happening any time soon. We want the big one to be the big one, which is winning the national championship.”
“It means a lot to be a part of that,” Mitchell added. “First couple of years, she struggled, and I think it’s important for us to cherish this moment with her. We’re happy for her.”
No. 12 SOUTH CAROLINA 79, NC CENTRAL 27
NC CENTRAL (4-3)
Davis 3-8 8-10 14, Gary 0-2 0-0 0, Freeman 0-9 0-0 0, Williams 0-3 0-0 0, Conerly 1-9 0-0 2, Hynes 1-7 0-0 2, Carrington 0-2 0-0 0, Whaley-Briggs 1-2 2-2 4, Jones 1-3 0-0 3, Dixon 1-2 0-0 2, Clement 0-3 0-0 0. Totals 8-50 10-12 27.
SOUTH CAROLINA (8-0)
Welch 6-6 1-2 13, Dozier 2-3 1-2 6, Ibiam 0-1 2-2 2, Sessions 2-4 3-4 7, Mitchell 7-9 3-4 19, Farmer 1-3 0-0 3, Gaines 2-3 0-0 4, Montout 2-6 0-0 5, Morrison 1-3 0-0 3, Roy 1-7 0-0 2, Coates 7-8 1-2 15. Totals 31-53 11-16 79.
Halftime: South Carolina 46-15. 3-Point Goals: NC Central 1-14 (Jones 1-3, Conerly 0-1, Whaley-Briggs 0-1, Williams 0-1, Clement 0-2, Hynes 0-2, Freeman 0-4), South Carolina 6-18 (Mitchell 2-3, Morrison 1-2, Dozier 1-2, Farmer 1-2, Montout 1-3, Sessions 0-1, Gaines 0-1, Roy 0-4). Fouled Out: None. Rebounds: NC Central 28 (Gary 7), South Carolina 38 (Coates 7). Assists: NC Central 6 (Conerly, Davis, Gary, Hynes, Jones, Williams 1), South Carolina 20 (Sessions 6). Total Fouls: NC Central 13, South Carolina 11. Attendance: 4,347.