COLUMBIA, S.C. (Univ. of SC Media) - No. 2/2 South Carolina (1-0) was tested, but scored 14 unanswered points down the stretch to notch a 70-61 win over Southern Cal (0-1) in the 2014-15 regular-season opener on Saturday night at Colonial Life Arena. Sophomore Alaina Coates kicked off her season with a double-double, posting 18 points and 13 rebounds.
With both offensives feeling opening-night jitters and sputtering out of the gate, the Gamecocks found themselves in a 4-0 hole after the Trojans’ Kaneisha Horn put up the first two baskets of the game. After nearly three minutes of play, freshman A’ja Wilson went the length of the court to score the first points of the season and her South Carolina career.
A'ja Wilson's first score as a Gamecock
Tied at 16-16, Alaina Coates asserted herself, leading a 7-0 charge with three straight baskets in the paint. The Gamecock sophomore cleaned up a miss and then connected with Tina Roy for the next four points for a 23-16 advantage. She then answered a Trojan basket with a move on the right block to add her fourth score in five South Carolina possessions for a 25-18 lead with 2:19 left in the first half. Southern Cal notched the last four points of the period, though, to cut the Gamecocks’ lead to 27-24 at the break.
South Carolina again tried to create some separation in the early stages of the second half, opening up a 37-30 lead thanks to five straight points from Aleighsa Welch and a 3-pointer from Roy. South Carolina turnovers allowed Southern Cal to chip away the lead as they scored on three consecutive possessions in the paint to pull within two at 41-39.
A South Carolina free throw and a 3-pointer from Southern Cal’s Courtney Jaco leveled the game at 42-all with 12:24 to play. Drew Edelmen scored three straight buckets for the Trojans, but the Gamecocks answered with a 3 from Khadijah Sessions and free throws from Tiffany Mitchell and Coates to just stay ahead.
The Trojans took their first lead since midway through the first half with a transition basket from McKenzie Calvert, making the score 53-52 with seven minutes to play. The advantage was short-lived, though. Sessions drained a 3 from the right corner on the following play to spark a 14-0 run to pull ahead 66-53. In the decisive surge, Roy hit her third 3-pointer of the night and Welch poured in back-to-back scores.
After the team struggled at the free throw line for much of the game, Mitchell hit all four of her opportunities from free throw line down the stretch to hold off the Trojans and start the season with a 70-61 victory.
Coates and Mitchell tied for team-high honors with 18 points each, and Welch also hit double figures with 10. Coates shot 6-of-8 from the field and 6-of-6 from the free throw line. Roy was solid distributing the ball as well as scoring, leading the team with six assists to go with her nine points.
After Southern Cal took a 53-52 lead with seven minutes remaining, South Carolina scored 14 unanswered points to put the Trojans away.
Tina Roy came in off the bench and made the most of her minutes, going 3-of-6 from behind the arc and dishing out six assists.
• With tonight’s win, the Gamecocks have won their last 19 games at home.
• In head coach Dawn Staley’s seven-year tenure at South Carolina, her team has won five season openers. The Gamecocks are 29-12 in season openers all-time.
• Coates’ double-double was the 11th of her career.
South Carolina Head Coach Dawn Staley
It was a great game for us. Winning by 75 points, you don’t learn a whole lot of lessons from it. When we beat a team like Southern Cal, it opens your eyes. I hope that our young players understand that when you take this leap to the next level, it is very important that you play every possession. It’s important that you pay attention to detail and that you’re aware of what is going on out there. It’ll take them some time to make that adjustment. Fortunately for us, we’ve got some players that have been in situations like this, and when we need them, we’ll call their number and they will come through for us.
UP NEXTSouth Carolina hosts rival Clemson on Thurs., Nov. 20, at 7 p.m. on the SEC Network. The Gamecocks will receive their 2014 SEC Championship rings in a ceremony before the contest.