So that’s what the big girl brings.
With a consistent post attack for the first time in three seasons, No. 13 South Carolina overwhelmed Vanderbilt 76-66 on Sunday for its fifth straight win and a 2-0 start in the SEC. Towering over a Commodores squad that tops out at 6-foot-1, 6-4 forwards Alaina Coates and Elem Ibiam combined for 35 points on 14-of-20 shooting.
It was no mystery what USC would try to do — the same approach opponents had when handing the Gamecocks a rare loss the past two seasons. Just throw it inside, feed the mule and let the big girl(s) score.
The Gamecocks (14-1, 2-0 SEC) knew they had that capability if Coates and Ibiam could consistently sink the shots. So when Coates rebounded her own miss early in the game and squared to shoot, the coaching staff held their breath.
The exhalation knocked Vanderbilt out of the gym.
Coates made that shot and a lot of others, recording her third straight double-double with a career-high 24 points and 10 rebounds. With Tiffany Mitchell turning rebounds into fast-break points and slashing to the rim whenever USC gave up a few Vanderbilt points in a row, the Gamecocks were able to hold a comfortable lead for the majority of the second half.
“Basically, (coach Dawn Staley) just told our guards they were going to dump it in,” Coates said. “We knew we had to be head-first and ready. It worked well for us.”
Mitchell and Aleighsa Welch locked it up with free throws, with Welch adding a key block (USC’s eighth and final) while playing with four fouls. The Gamecocks also remembered what got them the lead when Vanderbilt cut it to eight points with 7:18 to play — the ponytailed player in the paint demanding the rock.
Coates scored on two of three possessions before turning it back over to her teammates. Vanderbilt had no defense for her ability to jump for the pass, land, plant and score as the Commodores (12-3, 1-1) lost for the first time in 10 games.
USC has won four in a row against Vandy and five of the past six.
Coates is averaging 18.75 points, 9.75 rebounds and 3.5 blocks her past four games. She credited it to a talk she had with Staley after a three-game slump.
“With every game, I’m feeling more and more comfortable,” Coates said. “I’m just doing what I can to be there for my team and be able to contribute like I have.”
Said Staley: “She’s got to perform at a high level, because she’s capable. The three-games that she had, it’s not a good feeling for her, not a good feeling for us, because she’s a big-time recruit for us. We wanted her to have the ball in her hands.”
USC swatted eight shots (three by Coates) and shot 81.5 percent from the free-throw line. Vanderbilt’s up-tempo style in the second half gave USC a preview of what it will next face — No. 6 Kentucky on Thursday.
The Wildcats, who love to press and trap, stand in the way of USC matching its best SEC start under Staley (3-0). The game is set for 7 p.m.
Note: The Gamecocks were whistled for two technical fouls, one on Staley and one on Mitchell. Staley received hers early for arguing a foul and Mitchell got hers in the second half for taunting Jasmine Jenkins after being fouled by Jenkins.
“It’s the SEC. It’s hot in the kitchen,” Staley said of her foul. “I hope I don’t get another one at this point.”
Bowe 2-5 0-0 4, Schrann 0-2 0-0 0, Foggie 5-16 5-6 16, Lister 3-12 5-5 13, Batey 2-3 0-0 4, Jenkins 4-10 2-2 12, Webb 1-3 2-2 4, Smith 5-6 0-0 11, Long 1-4 0-0 2. Totals 23-61 14-15 66.
SOUTH CAROLINA (14-1)
Davis 1-2 1-1 3, Welch 2-4 5-6 9, Mitchell 6-9 5-6 19, Dozier 1-7 2-2 5, Ibiam 3-4 5-6 11, Gaines 0-0 2-2 2, Roy 1-4 0-0 3, Coates 11-16 2-4 24. Totals 25-46 22-27 76.
Halftime_South Carolina 41-30. 3-Point Goals_Vanderbilt 6-12 (Jenkins 2-3, Lister 2-4, Smith 1-1, Foggie 1-4), South Carolina 4-7 (Mitchell 2-2, Roy 1-2, Dozier 1-2, Davis 0-1). Fouled Out_Jenkins, Webb. Rebounds_Vanderbilt 29 (Foggie, Lister, Long 5), South Carolina 32 (Coates 10). Assists_Vanderbilt 14 (Foggie 5), South Carolina 19 (Dozier 5). Total Fouls_Vanderbilt 23, South Carolina 21. Technicals_Mitchell, South Carolina Bench. A_NA.