COLUMBIA, S.C. – Senior guard Tiffany Mitchell notched her fourth 20-point game of the season, while three other Gamecocks reached double figures to propel No. 2/2 South Carolina to an 86-71 win over No. 16/19 Florida on Thursday night at Colonial Life Arena. South Carolina, which improved to 23-1 overall and 11-0 in SEC play, tallied its most points in conference action this season in the victory over the Gators.
The Gamecocks built a sizeable lead with a scoring run in the beginning of the second quarter before strong showings from Mitchell and junior center Alaina Coates after halftime secured the victory. Mitchell scored 14 of her game-high 22 points in the second half, while Coates went 7-of-8 from the floor and finished with 14 points and 11 rebounds to register her career-high 13th double-double of the season. Sophomore forward A’ja Wilson fell one board short of a double-double, as she finished with 13 points and nine rebounds, and redshirt freshman guard Doniyah Cliney added 10 points in her first career start.
Mitchell and Cliney provided the early scoring for South Carolina, which jumped out to a 6-2 lead. Mitchell converted a three-point play in transition to give the Gamecocks their first lead, and Cliney drilled a 3-pointer from the corner after a series of nice passes on South Carolina’s next possession. Back-to-back 3-pointers from Mitchell and senior guard Tina Roy from the same corner pushed the advantage to 15-9, and the Gamecocks took a 19-16 lead into the second period. Three of South Carolina’s five field goals in the first 10 minutes came from behind the arc, and Mitchell ended the period with eight points.
The South Carolina guards continued their hot shooting in the second quarter, and a 16-0 run by the Gamecocks to start the period extended the lead to 35-16. A 3-pointer from sophomore Bianca Cuevas gave South Carolina its first double-digit cushion, and the advantage grew to 33-16 when Roy knocked down her second 3 of the night with 4:14 left in the half. Tough defense contributed to the Gamecocks’ fast start to the quarter, as the Gators missed 11 of their first 14 shot attempts of the period. South Carolina’s frontcourt carried the offense for the remainder of the half, scoring all 10 of its final points. Sophomore forward Jatarie White tallied six points during that stretch, and the Gamecocks headed into halftime with a 43-31 lead.
A 6-0 Florida run cut the lead to single digits out of the break, but the Gamecocks responded and scored the game’s next seven points. Another 3-pointer from Mitchell capped the South Carolina response, and a layup by the guard minutes later made it 54-38 midway through the third period. Mitchell continued to make timely field goals and help the Gamecocks maintain a double-digit advantage despite their poor shooting down the stretch of the quarter. Her third 3-pointer of the contest stretched the lead to 59-43 before the Gators closed the period on another scoring run to cut their deficit to 59-49 as the two teams went into the final quarter.
Led by Coates, the Gamecocks preserved a comfortable lead over Florida over the final 10 minutes of the game. The junior opened the scoring in the fourth quarter with a layup down low, and her third field goal of the period made it 69-57 with 6:06 left to play. She found Wilson for an easy transition bucket on South Carolina’s next possession to help the lead grow to 71-57, and the junior delivered a near-perfect inbounds pass to Mitchell less than two minutes later to make it 73-61. Florida was unable to come within single digits of the lead the rest of the way, as the Gators missed four of their last five shots of the game.
Guard Cassie Peoples and forward Haley Lorenzen both finished in double figures for the Gators, who were outrebounded, 44-30, in the loss. Both teams knocked down eight 3-pointers in the contest, and South Carolina boasted a 19-13 advantage in fast-break points.
Head Coach Dawn Staley
On her thoughts on South Carolina’s second-quarter run
“Law of averages says we’re going to have a great stretch at some point. I thought our players settled down and took what Florida gave us.”
South Carolina took firm control of the game in the second quarter after tallying the period’s first 16 points. Six different Gamecocks scored during that stretch.
For the third time in the last four games, the Gamecocks made at least 20 free throws. South Carolina finished the contest 22-of-31 from the line.
- Thursday marked the first ever start for redshirt freshman Doniyah Cliney. The guard impressed in 19 minutes of action, boasting career highs in points (10) and free throws (3).
- South Carolina’s 10 wins over ranked opponents this season match a program record.
- Florida forward Eleanna Christinaki, who came into Thursday’s contest averaging 11.6 points per game, tallied just four points and was held to 1-of-6 shooting from the floor.
- With her first board of the game, center Alaina Coates became the second Gamecock to total 1,000 points and 800 rebounds before her senior year, the 10th overall in program history.
- The Gamecocks recorded assists on 21 of their 28 made field goals.
The Gamecocks return to action on Mon., Feb. 15, when they face No. 25/- Tennessee on the road at Thompson-Boling Arena. Tipoff is set for 7 p.m., and the game can be seen on ESPN2 as part of the networks Big Monday programming.