No. 1 South Carolina downs Missouri 60-49; Mitchell has 19
COLUMBIA, Mo. (AP) South Carolina owns a perfect record, but it’s the various ways the team wins that coach Dawn Staley praised on Thursday night.
”Every time that we take the floor, we’re learning,” Staley said after defeating Missouri 60-49. ”We’ve got a lot of young players that need to see this action night in and night out so they know what to expect.”
Tiffany Mitchell scored 19 points, Alaina Coates added 15 and Aleighsa Welch grabbed 14 rebounds to lead the top-ranked Gamecocks.
The win pushed South Carolina’s record to 17-0 and 5-0 in Southeastern Conference play, the best start for the program since joining the league in 1991. The Gamecocks had outscored opponents 80.1-49.9 this season this season, but struggled to separate themselves from Missouri.
South Carolina led for more than 34 minutes but couldn’t relax until Coates capped a 6-0 run with two free throws for a 53-43 lead with 1:16 to go.
Sierra Michaelis scored a career-high 22 points but finished as the only player in double figures for Missouri (11-7, 1-4).
”Maybe we didn’t have the poise we needed to have for 40 minutes,” said Tigers coach Robin Pingeton. ”But I thought we played with great toughness and great grit for 40 minutes.”
Missouri and South Carolina entered the night ranked first and second in the SEC in holding opponents to under 33.5 percent shooting this season. But the teams combined to make 8 of their first 15 shots from the field and were tied four minutes into the game.
The pace then slowed considerably, though, as Missouri and South Carolina combined to make just 11 of their final 48 attempts in the half. The Gamecocks entered the break with a 25-20 advantage but never led by more than six in the opening 20 minutes.
”It’s really hard to win in the SEC on the road,” Mitchell said. ”So we just have to hunker down and stay with our game plan.”
South Carolina then led throughout the second half but only by three when Michaelis made a 3-pointer with five minutes left to cut the Tigers’ deficit to 44-41. Mitchell answered with her own 3-pointer and the Gamecocks led by at least four points the rest of the way.
”I thought our team did a really good job of just keeping their composure and just playing through things,” Staley said.
Missouri defeated Florida 66-47 last Sunday for the team’s first SEC win, thanks in part to 18 points from senior Morgan Eye and nine from sophomore Jordan Frericks. The duo average 24.1 points per game but tallied just 11 on Thursday.
Instead it was Michaelis who kept Missouri close, shooting 8 of 15 – including 4 of 7 from long range – and scoring 17 points in the second half. The team finished 16-of-54 (29.6 percent) overall from the field.
For South Carolina, freshman phenom A’ja Wilson didn’t score until making a free throw with 8:41 remaining. Wilson had scored in double figures in all but two games this season and averaged 13.9 points per game before scoring three against Missouri.
South Carolina: The Gamecocks lead the SEC with 80.1 points per game on 48.9 percent shooting, but finished 21 of 58 (36.2 percent) from the field against Missouri.
Missouri: The Tigers played with nine scholarship players because of injuries and received a scare when junior Morgan Stock remained on the floor with 12:42 left in the first half. After leaving the game and being tended to by trainers, she returned a few minutes later but did not score.
CRASHING THE BOARDS
South Carolina grabs 43.1 rebounds per game and leads the league with a plus-11.4 margin. It used its height advantage to outrebound Missouri 51-33, including a 17-7 edge on the offensive glass.
”A lot of them are so athletic, they can jump really high and block shots,” Eye said.
South Carolina plays at Florida on Monday.
Missouri travels to face Arkansas on Sunday.