From prime time to lunch time, from 8,000 fans to something much less than that and from No. 1 to, well, S.C. State — the question for the USC women was whether they could bounce back from their first loss of the season.
USC 65, S.C. State 45.
The mission was accomplished, but not in an anything resembling an elegant manner. That said, USC coach Dawn Staley was pleased with the team’s effort, if not execution.
“When you’re playing the No. 1 team in the country and you play them pretty tight and you have a chance of winning, there’s somewhat of a letdown,” Staley said. “But they’re players. It’s kind of hard to maintain, but we escaped with the win and we’ll take it.”
The game also was a bounce-back for freshman Tiffany Mitchell, who flopped against Stanford. After missing 12 of 13 shots on Wednesday, Mitchell responded with a game-high 21 points and 11 rebounds.
“It was a bad game for me,” Mitchell said of the Stanford game. “I knew I had to respond this game.”
Staley said she figured Mitchell would come back strong, due to her work ethic and lack of fear on the court. She hit 5 of 11 shots, including 2 of 3 from 3-point range. She also penetrated the lane routinely, drawing enough fouls to go 9 of 13 from the line.
“Tiffany goes hard, (and you have) got to take her for what she brings to the table,” Staley said. “She’s not a lazy person at all. I think she feels really bad that she didn’t perform as well as she would have liked against Stanford, but that’s the kind of thing that makes a player grow.”
Meanwhile, Aleighsa Welch followed her strong performance against Stanford with another double-double on Friday — 16 points and 14 rebounds.
Turnovers seemed to outnumber points in the early going before USC started to pull away. The Gamecocks established a double-digit lead shortly before halftime, then pushed their lead to 40-21 by opening the second half with seven consecutive points.
USC maintained a lead in the 15- to 20-point range the rest of the way, even while emptying the bench. All nine Gamecocks who played accumulated at least 16 minutes on the floor.
Now, for the ugly numbers — USC committed 20 turnovers and shot 34 percent from the field. They converted 4-of-18 3-point attempts and 27-of-44 free throws. Fortunately for the Gamecocks, the visiting Bulldogs recorded more fouls (33) than rebounds (30) while being limited to 30.6 percent shooting from the field.
USC will take a break for the holidays before returning on Dec. 29 to play host to Western Carolina.