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Mitchell's 20 lead No. 4 South Carolina women to win

  • Article by: PETE IACOBELLI
  • Associated Press
  • February 24, 2014 - 6:45 AM

COLUMBIA, S.C. — Tiffany Mitchell scored 20 points, Alaina Coates added 16 points and 12 rebounds as No. 4 South Carolina won its ninth straight game with a 69-55 victory over Florida on Sunday.

The Gamecocks (25-2, 13-1 Southeastern Conference) matched their overall win totals of the past two seasons and won their record 13th game in SEC play. Not that this one came easily as South Carolina struggled with Florida's swarming defense throughout the contest.

The Gamecocks led by 16 points midway through the second period until Florida rallied with an 13-3 run that cut things to 49-43 with 5:19 left. But Mitchell followed with a open 3-pointer from the left corner before Aleighsa Welch and Coates had inside baskets to restore the double-digit lead.

Once more the Gators (17-10, 7-7) fought back to trim the lead to 58-51 and again Mitchell's jumper and foul shot put the Gamecocks ahead 61-51.

Bonds scored 20 points to lead Florida before fouling out in the final minute. Kayla Lewis, who also fouled out in th last seconds, had 15 for the Gators.

Mitchell also added seven rebounds. The 6-foot-4 Coates was 5-of-5 shooting and had five of South Carolina's 11 blocked shots in her eighth game with double-figure points and rebounds this season.

Mitchell had six points as the Gamecocks opened the second half with 16-8 run to lead 46-30 before Florida rallied back.

There's been little opposition to slow down South Carolina since their lone SEC loss at Texas A&M, 67-65 in overtime, back on January 16th. The Gamecocks have won eight straight coming in by an average of 18 points a game. The closest call was January 26th when they outlasted Vanderbilt on the road, 61-57.

South Carolina figured to have one of its sternest tests earlier this week at Kentucky with an opponent bent on payback after a tight 68-59 victory at Colonial Life Arena early on in SEC play.

But the Gamecocks blew past the highly regarded Wildcats last Thursday for a 81-58 victory.

And most of the fans in the building expected little trouble with Florida, who despite its record came in a depleted squad who'd lost three of its past four.

But the Gators showed their bite with a swarming defense that clearly disrupted the Gameocks usually smooth offense.

South Carolina has averaged fewer than 15 turnovers a game yet committed 13 in the first 20 minutes. Florida, though, couldn't take advantage of the Gamecocks mistakes because of its ice-cold shooting.

The Gators, fourth in the SEC field goal percentage, had separate stretchs where they missed 11 and nine consecutive shots in the opening half. They ended with just eight field goals and a dreadful 25 percent from the field.

Still, Florida scored the game's first seven points and was still within 19-17 on Cassie People's 3-pointer with 6:50 to go. That's when the Gamecocks took off on a 13-5 run to close the half.

Coates had five points in the charge and Elem Ibiam closed the period with a pair of foul shots with 1.4 seconds left after a grabbing a rebound among three defenders after Asia Dozier's missed 3-pointer.

Her free throws sent the Gamecocks to the locker room up 32-22.

South Carolina tightened up the second half with only five turnovers to finish with 18 for the game.

The arena was decorated in pink as South Carolina play in honor of those who who've fought or are batting breast cancer. Those include Gamecock assistant Nikki McCray, who was diagnosed with the disease in November and is undergoing treatment. She has not missed a game with the team due to her illness.

© 2014 Star Tribune