Women’s basketball overcomes early deficit in victory over Florida
With the South Carolina women’s basketball team’s 69-55 victory over Florida on Sunday afternoon, the Gamecocks clinched at least a share of the regular season SEC title for the first time since joining the conference in 1991.
Sophomore guard Tiffany Mitchell led the Gamecocks with 20 points on 7-of-15 shooting from the field. Junior Aleighsa Welch and freshman Alaina Coates each posted double-digit points, with Coates picking up her eighth double-double of the season.
South Carolina (25-2, 12-1 SEC) fell behind early Sunday, trailing the Gators 7-0 just over two minutes into the game. But Mitchell said her team was able to settle its nerves in order to go on the 10-point run that gave the Gamecocks a lead they would hold until the end.
“We talked in the huddle,” Mitchell said. “We just knew we had to settle in and force the ball inside like we tried to do most of the game.”
Forcing the ball inside proved to be effective for the Gamecocks as it has been all season. South Carolina’s two bigs, Coates and junior center Elem Ibiam, registered a combined 24 points.
The win continued the team’s unbeaten streak at home this season, and pushed their current overall win streak to nine in a row.
With attendance at Sunday’s game coming in at a season-high, coach Dawn Staley hopes fans will continue to fill the seats at the Colonial Life Arena. A matchup against Georgia on Thursday will give the women’s team the opportunity to claim an undefeated season at home.
Sunday’s game was branded a “Think Pink” initiative, honoring those who have battled and are battling breast cancer, including assistant coach Nikki McCray who was recently diagnosed with breast cancer.
“For us, I think we put ourselves in a position to pack Colonial Life Arena,” Staley said. “We have to get used to playing with it being that packed. I thought it was a tremendous turnout for a special occasion, just recognizing Nikki, and recognizing all those who are affected by breast cancer.”
For Florida (17-10, 7-7 SEC), the loss drops them to fourth in the SEC standings, sitting behind Texas A&M and Tennessee, who are second and third, respectively.
The Gators’ success against South Carolina Sunday came in the turnover department, where they forced 18 possession changes compared to South Carolina’s 12. Florida was able to capitalize off the Gamecocks’ mistakes, turning in 16 points off turnovers compared to South Carolina’s three.
“There were a lot of openings,” Staley said. “And I thought our kids were playing too fast and trying to take advantage of all the openings in one play. You know, it caused us to cough the ball up a lot.”
South Carolina is losing the season-long turnover battle, committing 379 while forcing 355. The statistic should be taken with a grain of salt, however, since it has not impeded the team’s winning ways.
Along with her double-double, Coates contributed a team-high five blocks in the victory. The freshman from Irmo, S.C. continues a convincing campaign that could result in an SEC Freshman of the Year nod. She owns four Freshman of the Week awards so far this season.
The Gamecocks will face Georgia and Tennessee to finish out the remainder of the regular season. The team will then travel to Duluth, Ga. for the SEC Tournament, which is scheduled to begin March 5.