South Carolina will ride into this weeks showdown with No. 7 Tennessee with a three-game winning streak after a dominating 69-43 victory against Mississippi State on Sunday.
After grabbing an eight-point halftime lead, USC (17-5, 6-3 SEC) scored on 10 of its first 13 possessions to power a 24-7 run that put the game out of reach.
South Carolina used superior speed to force a larger Mississippi State team into ball-handling mistakes and poor shots. Mississippi State could not counter as guards Markeshia Grant, Ieasia Walker and LaKeisha Sutton bolted up the court after missed shots and turnovers.
For the second straight game, Grant spurred the Gamecocks second-half push. She scored 10 points and dished three assists including a no-look pass to Ieasia Walker in the 24-7 run. USC led by as many as 32 points.
We started shooting shots in our offense, and sometimes I think that catches people off guard. Because if youve scouted us before the last few games, were not as aggressive from an offensive standpoint, USC coach Dawn Staley said.
The Gamecocks have shot 45 percent in wins over Mississippi and Mississippi State, including a season high 49.1 percent Sunday. The team was averaging under 37 percent from the field for the season.
Grant finished with a team-high 17 points, and Sutton added 15 points. The seniors have combined for 69 points, or 53 percent of the teams scoring, in the past two games.
The defense has returned to form after a recent three-game skid. USC held Mississippi States leading scorer, Diamber Johnson, to a season-low two points. She was averaging 17.2 points per game, second best in the SEC.
Shes the head of their basketball team, and for us, we like to cut the head off and then the rest will go, Staley said.
Mississippi State (13-8, 3-5) shot 30.6 percent the lowest by an SEC team against the Gamecocks this season. The Bulldogs could not take advantage on the offensive glass (three second-chance points off 17 offensive rebounds) or USC miscues (four points off 11 Gamecocks turnovers).
South Carolina, which has the nations second-stingiest scoring defense, has held its past two league opponents to 43 points each one-point shy of the Gamecocks all-time low against an SEC team. USC limited Georgia to 42 points in 2010.
USCs defense will be challenged by Tennessee, which owns one of the nations top 15 scoring offenses (76 ppg.).
The Gamecocks have beaten the Volunteers once in 43 games (1980), including both meetings last season. But the Gamecocks are heading into Knoxville on Thursday with some momentum.
Were feeling really good about ourselves, Staley said. Youre not just preparing for a team. Youre preparing for a tradition. You have to be on all cylinders when you go up against somebody like that.