Gamecocks Make Program History

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By News Department

COLUMBIA, S.C. (USC SID) -- No. 10/11 South Carolina used a 10-4 run at the end of the first half and gritty defense in the second to post a 72-66 win at Auburn Sunday afternoon.

The Gamecocks (16-1, 4-0 SEC) shot 68.8 percent in the second half and held Auburn to just 35.5 percent in the period to drive past a scrappy Tigers’ team after being tied at the half. Three Gamecocks were in double figures, led by Tiffany Mitchell’s 18 and including 14 from Alaina Coates, all in the first half to keep South Carolina going in the opening stanza, as South Carolina improved to 4-0 in SEC action for the first time in program history.

The Gamecocks needed a furious rally to go into halftime tied after trailing by 12 at 25-13 with 8:30 left in the period. Gamecock turnovers and Auburn’s good work on the offensive glass had the Tigers feeling confident early. South Carolina called a timeout to regroup then made headway by excising a season-long demon by converting at the free throw line.

After a Tyrese Tanner free throw line jumper put the Tigers up 25-13, the Gamecocks rattled off the next five points thanks to a pair of Auburn turnovers. Khadijah Sessions got it going with an aggressive drive through the lane, and Aleighsa Welch picked up a steal on the Tigers’ trip up the floor. Her transition layup rimmed out, but Olivia Gaines was fouled going for the rebound and hit the front end of the 1-and-1 opportunity to make it a nine-point game. After solid post defense from Alaina Coates forced Peyton Davis to travel, Welch delivered a baseline jumper to make it a 25-18 game with 6:28 to go.

From there, the game became a parade to the free throw line as both teams were in the bonus and whistles came on nearly every possession. The Gamecocks dug into the lead by converting at the line and by sneaking in a few transition baskets. A steal from Tiffany Mitchell led to a transition layup from Welch to bring the Gamecocks within five at 29-24. After a pair of Auburn free throws, Coates hit one of her two on the next possessions, then made the Tigers pay for another turnover with a bucket from the right block off a great lob in from Wilka Montout to pull within four. Auburn stretched it back out to 35-29 with 2:19 remaining, but the Gamecocks closed on a 10-4 run that started with a traditional three-point play from Coates to get within three. After a Montout defensive rebound, Mitchell put back her own miss to pull within one at 35-34. Brandy Montgomery drove for a basket to put the Tigers back up by three, but Tina Roy erased that with a 3-pointer from the left sideline to knot the game at 37-37. The teams traded free throws in the waning seconds of the half to go into the locker room tied 39-39.

Auburn scored the first bucket of the second half, but South Carolina scored the next five to claim its first lead of the game. Dozier put the Gamecocks on top 42-41 with a 3-pointer from the right wing, and Elem Ibiam followed her defensive rebound with a transition layup to make it a three-point advantage. The game was tied at 45-45 with 17:13 to play when the Gamecocks launched a 4-0 mini-run to go up 49-45 with 15:26 to play.

The Gamecocks could not pull away, though, and the Tigers stayed tough. After a pull-up jumper from Mitchell made it a 55-48 game, Auburn used a pair of turnovers and a missed opportunity on the free throw line into a 7-0 run that tied the game at 55-55 with 8:09 on the clock.

South Carolina went back on top with a Sessions 3 from the right wing after great ball movement around the perimeter as the Auburn zone locked down the Gamecock interior. Mitchel came up with the fifth of her career-high six steals on the Tigers’ next possession, converting it into a layup on the other end for a 60-55 South Carolina lead with 6:37 to play.

Davis briefly interrupted the surge with a spin move inside for a bucket, but the Gamecocks went right back to work, finally pulling away from the Tigers. Asia Dozier hit a floater in the lane, and Mitchell turned her defensive rebound into a transition basket that put South Carolina up eight at 65-57 with less than four minutes to go. After an empty possession for the Gamecocks, Mitchell’s final steal of the game kept the Tigers from advancing. She doubled the impact with a 3 from the left corner after Welch found her in interior traffic to stretch the lead to double digits at 68-57 with 2:17 to play.

The Tigers had one more run in them, though, again forcing a pair of Gamecock turnovers to score six straight points and pull within five with under a minute remaining. Auburn sent the Gamecocks to the free throw line, where the Gamecocks began to struggle. After Welch hit 1-of-2 from the stripe, Dozier did the same after she was fouled on a clutch defensive rebound. Montgomery buried a 3 from the right wing to pull the Tigers within four, but the Gamecocks got the ball into Sessions’ hands on the next possession, and the sophomore point guard hit both her free throws to help ice the game.

Welch joined Mitchell and Coates in double figures with 10 to go with her three assists, which tied Dozier and Sessions for the team lead. Coates missed a double-double for the first time in league play, but still led the team with six boards.

The Gamecocks continue their road swing at Texas A&M on Thu., Jan. 16, at 8 p.m. (ET). South Carolina returns to Colonial Life Arena on Sun., Jan. 19, to face Alabama in a 3 p.m. contest.

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