South Carolina hadn’t played well since rising to No. 10 in the polls, losing to North Carolina and nearly letting a 19-point lead fritter away against Winthrop. The Gamecocks weren’t that bad, but they weren’t what they were in the early season.
They needed a pick-me-up. They needed Sunday.
USC bullied S.C. State 70-26 at Colonial Life Arena to finish their pre-Christmas schedule 11-1, blowing the game open with a 19-0 first-half run and featuring none of the letdowns that let Winthrop back in the previous game. The Gamecocks cleaned the glass, scored and ran past the overwhelmed Bulldogs (1-8), who found the same result as their previous five road games.
It wasn’t flawless — Elem Ibiam missed a number of shots right at the rim, after her last few games had featured a dramatic improvement, and the point guard spot continues to be under advisement — but USC made up for it. Freshman Alaina Coates, after scoring a combined five points in her past three games, dominated the Bulldogs with a career-high 23 points on a perfect day from the field (7-for-7) and line (9-for-9). Coates also had five rebounds and three blocks.
“I found myself in a funk,” Coates said. “I had a talk with coach (Dawn) Staley and was able to strike some things out. I was able to get back to the way I was playing.”
Ibiam had nine points, and Aleighsa Welch had eight as USC let everybody play. The Gamecocks outrebounded the Bulldogs 47-21 and forced 16 turnovers, scoring 23 points off them and winning the paint fight 34-12.
After playing three games in five days, a dominant performance sent everybody home in a good mood.
“I think it was a game that we could work on some of the things that we didn’t do as well in the previous two games,” Staley said. “Just getting after it, working on rebounding, becoming a better defensive team.”
USC will break for Christmas before returning for its final non-conference game on Saturday against Savannah State. After that comes the SEC opener at Arkansas (Jan. 2) — and perhaps the return of point guard Khadijah Sessions.
Sessions sat out the Winthrop and S.C. State games after spraining her ankle against the Tar Heels. Tiffany Davis, among others, filled the absence, but Sessions’ availability will be a large factor in league play.
Sessions was being re-evaluated after the game but will have a cast re-applied for the break and then looked at again after Christmas. Staley said Sessions probably won’t play on Saturday.
“I don’t know if we’ll put her out there, because she hasn’t really played a lot,” Staley said. “Khadijah’s different. She’s got a lot of energy, and obviously has played a long time. She has to really show us that she’s completely healthy to put her out there after the break.”
Welch liked how USC rebounded from the past two games. She saw it as a preview of what SEC play will be like.
“Knowing what we have ahead of us, this stretch of games that we’ve had is the best for what it’s really going to be like,” Welch said. “I think we’re in a good place right now heading into the toughest part of our schedule.”
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SC STATE (1-8)
Floyd 1-6 0-2 2, Goodwin 1-3 0-0 2, Williams 3-14 0-0 6, Duren 0-5 0-0 0, Richbow 2-4 0-0 4, Andersen 0-1 0-0 0, Jones 3-9 0-0 7, Frazier 2-7 0-0 5. Totals 12-49 0-2 26.
SOUTH CAROLINA (11-1)
Welch 4-5 0-1 8, Ibiam 4-10 1-2 9, Davis 2-6 0-0 6, Mitchell 2-8 0-0 5, Dozier 1-5 1-2 4, Farmer 0-2 0-0 0, Gaines 2-2 2-2 6, Montout 1-5 0-2 2, Morrison 0-1 0-0 0, Roy 3-6 0-0 7, Coates 7-7 9-9 23. Totals 26-57 13-18 70.
Halftime: South Carolina 37-12. 3-Point Goals: SC State 2-19 (Frazier 1-4, Jones 1-7, Duren 0-1, Andersen 0-1, Floyd 0-2, Williams 0-4), South Carolina 5-12 (Davis 2-2, Roy 1-2, Mitchell 1-3, Dozier 1-4, Morrison 0-1). Fouled Out: None. Rebounds: SC State 21 (Goodwin 5), South Carolina 47 (Ibiam, Mitchell 9). Assists: SC State 7 (Richbow 4), South Carolina 19 (Mitchell 4). Total Fouls: SC State 14, South Carolina 1. Attendance: 5,937.