The upset bid was limited to five minutes.
Seventh-ranked South Carolina plowed Ole Miss 99-70 on Thursday, riding a 19-1 run to end the first half after the Rebels trailed by a point with 7:00 to play. The Gamecocks (19-2, 7-1 SEC) remained tied with Texas A&M for first place in the league and continued their best start in SEC play.
“This game is made of runs,” coach Dawn Staley said. “I just think over a 40-minute period, we just kind of imposed our will on them, getting the ball down low and being efficient on the offensive end.”
USC was doing what it needed to, working the ball inside to Elem Ibiam and running past Ole Miss (10-12, 1-7) for transition buckets, but began settling for jump shots when the Rebels tightened their zone. Ole Miss leading scorer Valencia McFarland was the X-Acto knife to USC’s cardboard defense, and Kenyotta Jenkins was collecting offensive rebounds and second-chance points like the Georgia Department of Transportation’s answering machine collects complaints these days.
After a nine-point lead shrank to one, the Gamecocks had enough. They went back to basics, and again stormed into the win column.
“We didn’t panic or anything,” Ibiam said. “The coaches told us to stay calm. No reason to panic, because it was still early in the game. We just handled the pressure and executed.”
Ibiam hit a layup and Alaina Coates converted a three-point play. Khadijah Sessions aced two free throws before Asia Dozier again found Coates in the paint. Ole Miss, backed into the ropes, barely made a peep after.
The run stretched to 19-1 and a 44-25 halftime lead as the Gamecocks missed one field goal and were perfect from the line in the final 6:41. USC kept it going in the second half, placing six in double figures and shooting 60.8 percent for the game. USC set a program-high for points in a regular-season SEC game and tied a Staley-era high with 32 made free throws, but had to settle for a tie on another Staley-era high.
The Gamecocks never have scored 100 points under Staley. They had a chance to, but LeAnna Morrison missed one free throw late and Staley told USC to hold off on the last possession. The Gamecocks also hit 99 in November during their season-opener.
“South Carolina is the best team we’ve played all season,” Ole Miss coach Matt Insell said.
Alaina Coates continued a potential SEC Freshman of the Year campaign with another double-double, posting a team-high 24 points and snaring 12 rebounds (“It is a goal of mine,” Coates said of the award. “I want it, and I’m just going to keep working for it.”). Ibiam fouled out but was the Gamecocks’ best player in the first half; she ended with 14 points, eight boards and five blocks. Tiffany Mitchell scored 14 while Aleighsa Welch, Khadijah Sessions and Tiffany Davis each had 11. USC had 22 assists on 31 field goals.
“It was a great, efficient game where we found the open player,” Staley said.
USC has eight SEC games to play. If the season ended today, the Gamecocks would be the No. 2 seed in the SEC tournament, and Staley might begin mentioning the quest for a top-four finish as the season draws to a close.
A top-four finish gets a team out of the first two rounds of the SEC tournament. The Gamecocks just missed it last year, finishing at No. 5. But even if Staley mentions it, it will be lightly.
"We haven’t really talked about it,” she said. “We need to do what got us here. What got us here is not looking ahead.”
USC hosts Missouri at 3 p.m. on Sunday.
McFarland 9-19 3-4 24, Moore 2-6 5-6 9, Joseph 0-5 0-0 0, McCray 1-5 1-2 3, Faleru 5-7 9-13 19, Ortiz 0-1 0-0 0, Jenkins 5-9 0-0 10, Frizzell 0-3 0-0 0, Singletary 0-1 2-2 2, Hart 0-1 1-2 1, Jackson 1-1 0-2 2. Totals 23-58 21-31 70.
SOUTH CAROLINA (19-2)
Sessions 3-5 4-5 11, Welch 4-5 3-4 11, Mitchell 4-9 6-6 15, Dozier 1-4 2-4 4, Ibiam 6-7 2-2 14, Farmer 0-1 0-0 0, Gaines 0-2 1-2 1, Montout 2-2 0-0 4, Davis 2-3 5-6 11, Morrison 0-1 1-2 1, Roy 1-2 0-0 3, Coates 8-10 8-10 24. Totals 31-51 32-41 99.
Halftime_South Carolina 44-25. 3-Point Goals_Mississippi 3-14 (McFarland 3-6, Singletary 0-1, Frizzell 0-2, Joseph 0-5), South Carolina 5-11 (Davis 2-2, Sessions 1-2, Roy 1-2, Mitchell 1-2, Dozier 0-1, Farmer 0-1, Morrison 0-1). Fouled Out_Ibiam, Singletary. Rebounds_Mississippi 27 (Faleru 8), South Carolina 38 (Coates 12). Assists_Mississippi 11 (Moore 4), South Carolina 22 (Mitchell 8). Total Fouls_Mississippi 27, South Carolina 23. Technicals_Jenkins, Mississippi Bench. Attendance_5,344.