COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — Freshman forward A’ja Wilson had 17 points, Elem Ibiam scored 16 on 7-of-7 shooting and South Carolina coach Dawn Staley earned her 300th career victory as the top-ranked Gamecocks beat Charlotte 82-61 on Thursday night.
Alaina Coates had 15 points and 13 rebounds for the Gamecocks, who improved to 7-0 for the third straight season. South Carolina got a much tougher-than-expected tuneup in winning its 23rd straight at home before traveling to face No. 9 Duke on Sunday.
Charlotte (1-6) led 19-18 about 9 minutes in before the Gamecocks closed the opening half with a 28-9 run to move in front for good.
Lefty Webster had 17 points to lead the 49ers, whose six-game losing streak is the team’s longest in 15 years.
Aleighsa Welch added 10 points for South Carolina. For the 6-foot-5 Wilson, it was the fourth time she’s led the Gamecocks in scoring.
After trailing 46-28 at halftime, Charlotte could not get any closer than 13 points in the second half.
Wilson added three blocks and three steals, while the 6-4 Coates had her third double-double of the season and 13th of her career.
The Gamecocks returned home this week after winning the Junkanoo Jam in the Bahamas, outlasting then-ranked Syracuse 66-63 in the finals. South Carolina rolled to an easy, 90-26 victory Monday in its first home game since reaching No. 1. This one, too, was expected to be a blowout, but Charlotte pushed the pace and was unafraid to challenge the Gamecocks’ much-taller lineup in the first half.
The 49ers made eight of their first 11 shots and led 19-18 on Webster’s jumper with 11:49 to go. That’s when South Carolina took off on a 28-9 run to close the half and take control.
Coates tied it with a foul shot and Tina Roy had the first of her two 3-pointers during the surge. Coates added four straight free throws and when Roy added her next long-distance basket, the Gamecocks were up 35-24.
Charlotte scored only four points in the last 8 minutes of the period, all on foul shots as it missed 13 of its final 14 from the field.
Charlotte: The 49ers are among 12 programs in the country to make the postseason in each of the past 12 years.
South Carolina: The Gamecocks’ defense is clicking again this season. The team ranks third in the country, allowing just 45.5 points per game. South Carolina has given up 70 points in only seven times in 109 games the past four seasons.
Charlotte returns home to play Charleston Southern on Sunday.
South Carolina heads to No. 9 Duke on Sunday.
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