Gamecocks return to form, top Alabama

dcloninger@thestate.comJanuary 19, 2014 

Its first SEC loss was mostly due to turnovers and horrendous free-throw shooting.

In its first chance to correct it, No. 8 South Carolina looked about how Dawn Staley wanted it to look — eager to fix its problems.

The Gamecocks steamrolled Alabama 77-51 on Sunday, tightening their game and heading into their first bye week in prime position. At 5-1 in the SEC, USC is tied with Vanderbilt for second place, a half-game behind Texas A&M for first.

The Gamecocks (17-2) play the Commodores in a week. Vanderbilt defeated LSU on Sunday and hasn’t lost since falling to USC on Jan. 5. Each team gets a week to prepare for the other.

For USC, a win could mean a springboard into a five-game stretch in which it should be heavily favored. But Staley wasn’t going to think about that.

Sunday was about congratulating her team for improving its ball-handling (15 turnovers, after averaging 18.4 in league play), and missing one shot from the free-throw line (10-of-11). The Gamecocks also had 25 assists on 30 baskets.

“I thought we did a great job of just getting shots at the basket, rather than turning the ball over,” Staley said. “I think we saw what the defense gave us and took advantage of it, didn’t force too many things out on the floor. Fifteen? At least it’s not 20.”

With the Crimson Tide (8-10, 1-4) deprived of height, USC had no problems working the ball inside to Elem Ibiam. She scored an SEC career-high 18 points, and the Gamecocks had four turnovers in the first half, also turning their outside shooting loose.

“We’ve really been practicing on that, just going straight up,” Ibiam said. “The emphasis coach (Darius) Taylor has put on that in the post has really helped me.”

Aleighsa Welch showed off her jumper, and steadily improving guard Olivia Gaines, a starter for the first time, did the same. Tiffany Mitchell, playing a lot of point guard, had a complete game with seven points, six rebounds, eight assists and two blocks. Alaina Coates missed a double-double with 10 points and nine boards.

The opportunity ahead glimmered, especially after showing several different looks than the team that beat Vanderbilt two weeks ago.

“I don’t think we’re going to look too far ahead,” Mitchell said. “We know Vandy’s a great team. We have to stay what we’re doing.”

“In this league, anybody can beat anybody anywhere,” Staley said. “Home isn’t safe, the road isn’t safe. By any means, looking ahead, the teams in this league, you’re setting yourself up to fail.”

NOTE: Redshirt freshman guard Tiffany Davis re-injured her left shoulder with 3:39 to play in the first half. She did not return to the game although USC said she was only being held out as a precaution. She sat on the bench with her left arm in a sling for the second half.

Davis originally hurt the shoulder against San Diego State on Nov. 23 and missed the next two games. Staley said that with a week off, Davis may be ready for the next game.

ALABAMA (8-10)

Simmons 3-8 0-0 7, Carter 2-6 4-4 8, Myers 2-14 0-0 5, Hegstetter 1-5 0-0 2, Williams 7-9 2-5 16, Hutchen 2-3 3-4 7, Jack 1-3 0-0 3, Rivers 1-6 0-0 2, Hamilton 0-4 1-2 1. Totals 19-58 10-15 51.

SOUTH CAROLINA (17-2)

Gaines 2-5 0-0 4, Welch 5-7 2-3 12, Mitchell 2-8 2-2 7, Dozier 3-4 0-0 8, Ibiam 7-11 4-4 18, Farmer 1-1 0-0 3, Sessions 1-1 0-0 3, Montout 2-2 0-0 6, Davis 0-1 0-0 0, Morrison 0-0 0-0 0, Roy 3-9 0-0 6, Coates 4-9 2-2 10. Totals 30-58 10-11 77.

Halftime_South Carolina 43-26. 3-Point Goals_Alabama 3-14 (Jack 1-2, Myers 1-3, Simmons 1-4, Hegstetter 0-1, Carter 0-2, Rivers 0-2), South Carolina 7-12 (Montout 2-2, Dozier 2-3, Sessions 1-1, Farmer 1-1, Mitchell 1-2, Roy 0-3). Fouled Out_None. Rebounds_Alabama 24 (Carter, Williams 4), South Carolina 43 (Welch 10). Assists_Alabama 10 (Rivers 4), South Carolina 25 (Mitchell 8). Total Fouls_Alabama 14, South Carolina 15. Attendance: 7,740

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