Superwoman added another day-saving performance to her already impressive resumé.
South Carolina’s Tiffany Mitchell scored a season-high 22 points as the No. 2 Gamecocks squeaked past Vanderbilt 71-61 on Thursday, keeping USC perfect on the season and pushing the Gamecocks into a tie for first place in the SEC.
“It boiled down to our most experienced players making big plays,” USC coach Dawn Staley said. “And (Mitchell) hasn’t been our conference player of the year the last two years for nothing. She put us on her back.”
USC and Mississippi State are each 2-0 in the league after a litany of upsets in the first two games across league play, and the Gamecocks nearly added themselves to the list.
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Turnovers, lack of energy and seemingly no clue on how to get the ball to its most advantageous players had USC holding off the Commodores (11-4, 0-2) half the night and playing catch-up the other half. The game featured 18 lead changes and was tied at 31 at halftime.
Vanderbilt started each period quicker than USC did and was able to take the lead, but Mitchell was always there for a 3-pointer or steal-and-score to start a Gamecock rally. Despite starting the game wearing a protective facemask after taking a hit in practice (she discarded it after missing her first three shots), and suffering a nasty collision in the first period, Mitchell had more than enough to pace her team.
Vanderbilt coach Melanie Balcomb said Mitchell was in a zone.
“That was difficult, and then I felt like we calmed her down a little bit, then (Tina) Roy started going off,” Balcomb said.
Mitchell began to drive through the lane for USC’s fourth-quarter lead and the Gamecocks needed every bit of it. They were much bigger than Vanderbilt, yet only won the rebounding total by one, and after center Alaina Coates scored six of USC’s first seven points, the Gamecocks couldn’t get the ball to her despite her being the tallest player on the court.
Coates shot a mere six times for 11 points. A’ja Wilson had three shots for four points. With the twin towers taken out and USC again struggling from the free-throw line (11-of-23), the Gamecocks had to turn to their defense to get by.
Roy finished with 13 points, including 12 from four three-pointers.
Seven steals helped turn the game to USC and the Gamecocks escaped with their seventh straight win in the series.
“It’s always a barn burner when we play Vanderbilt here, and we came into the game knowing it would take this kind of effort,” Staley said.
The Gamecocks host No. 20 Missouri on Sunday.
NOTES: Another player who was hit in a recent practice, Asia Dozier, was back in the starting lineup after sitting out one game. … Redshirt freshman Doniyah Cliney played the first minutes of her career and scored her first career points.
SOUTH CAROLINA (14-0)
Wilson 1-3 2-4 4, Dozier 1-5 0-0 3, Coates 5-6 1-4 11, Sessions 3-5 2-3 10, Mitchell 8-15 3-6 22, Cuevas 2-6 0-0 4, Cliney 1-2 0-0 2, Roy 4-8 1-2 13, Imovbioh 0-0 0-0 0, White 0-0 2-4 2. Totals 25-50 11-23 71.
Long 1-1 0-0 2, Dahlman 5-10 2-2 14, Bell 3-12 3-4 9, Spears 1-9 2-2 4, Reed 2-6 0-0 6, Jenkins 2-3 0-0 4, Webb 3-5 1-1 7, Batey 2-3 2-2 6, Shaw 3-4 3-4 9. Totals 22-53 13-15 61.
3-Point Goals_South Carolina 10-22 (Roy 4-6, Mitchell 3-6, Sessions 2-3, Dozier 1-4, Cuevas 0-3), Vanderbilt 4-20 (Reed 2-4, Dahlman 2-7, Bell 0-4, Spears 0-5). Fouled Out_Webb. Rebounds_South Carolina 30 (Coates 10), Vanderbilt 29 (Dahlman 6). Assists_South Carolina 15 (Mitchell 5), Vanderbilt 12 (Spears 4). Total Fouls_South Carolina 18, Vanderbilt 19. Attendance_2,547.