A’ja Wilson leads No. 2 South Carolina to 81-62 victory
COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — A’ja Wilson sounded like one of South Carolina’s opponents breaking down the challenge they’d face in the Gamecocks.
“We’re not,” she said, “undersized folks.”
South Carolina showed that once again with the 6-foot-5 Wilson and 6-4 Alaina Coates powering the inside game in an 81-62 victory over Mississippi on Thursday night.
Wilson had 17 points and nine rebounds while Coates had 13 points and 14 rebounds for her 10th game this season with double-figure points and rebounds. The duo were too much for the Rebels (10-10, 2-5 Southeastern Conference), who lost their seventh straight to the two-time defending SEC champs.
Wilson and Coates were a combined 12-of-21 shooting, all attempts coming just a few feet from the basket.
“Coates, when does she graduate?” Ole Miss coach Matt Insell asked with a laugh.
South Carolina’s post players weren’t all that was working against the Rebels. The Gamecocks (20-0, 8-0) got 15 points from Tiffany Mitchell and Tina Roy made three of their nine 3-poniters.
The Gamecocks took care of things early, breaking on top 19-7 in the opening quarter and kept the lead in double digits for much of the rest of the game.
Shandricka Sessom had 26 points, Mississippi’s only player in double figures.
South Carolina continued its undefeated run as it pursued last year’s program best start of 22-0. That streak ended against national champion Connecticut. The Gamecocks have two more games left before facing off against No. 1 UConn again this year at the Colonial Life Arena on Feb. 8.
“For us, it’s a focus on one game,” South Carolina coach Dawn Staley said, locking onto Sunday’s contest at No. 10 Texas A&M, which threw the biggest scare into the Gamecocks’ undefeated season in a 59-58 defeat here two weeks ago.
Wilson also said the team would stick to its “Next game up” approach and not worry beyond the Aggies.
“Don’t fix something that’s not broken,” she said.
The Gamecocks ran their home win streak to 44 games, the longest stretch in the nation.
Wilson scored eight points underneath early before Coates took over as South Carolina’s unstoppable presence in the second quarter, even converting a sweet feed from Wilson for the final basket of the half.
Ole Miss, coming off a 73-65 stunner over No. 12 Kentucky last time out, struggled to find its shooting touch. While Sessom was 11 of 21 from the floor, the other four starters were a combined 5 of 16.
The Rebels were 3 of 19 from behind the arc and outrebounded 45 to 28.
Mississippi: The Rebels are the youngest team in the SEC: Nine of 13 players on the roster are freshmen or sophomores. They are also the only league team without a senior.
South Carolina: The Gamecocks came into the game 10th nationally with 447 free-throw attempts. They average better than 23 foul shots a game, the highest total among teams ranked in the current Top 25.
SHARING IS CARING
The Gamecocks had 24 assists — second highest total this season — on 31 field goals against Ole Miss. Part of the reason, Staley said, is because the team looks to move the ball back out from the post and South Carolina’s shooters made shots. Wilson said she and the other Gamecock post players did a strong job of finishing for points after making clean catches. “We’ve got to keep that going,” she said.
A’ja Wilson introduced the team’s adopted mascot in her postgame session, a small teddy bear she called “Eli.” Wilson said Tiffany Mitchell brought him right before Christmas and he’s a staple of games and practices. “Eli’s undefeated,” an incredulous Dawn Staley said. “So, ‘Yeah, Eli.’”
Mississippi faces its fifth straight ranked opponent when it takes on No. 22 Missouri on Sunday.
South Carolina heads to No. 10 Texas A&M on Sunday.