COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — South Carolina showed again how those waiting for the Gamecocks to crack under the pressure of No. 1 might have a while to go.
Freshman A’ja Wilson scored 18 points, defending Southeastern Conference player of the year Tiffany Mitchell added 16 points and Alaina Coates had 12 points and 11 rebounds as South Carolina remained unbeaten with a 79-61 victory over 12th-ranked Texas A&M on Monday night.
The Gamecocks (19-0, 7-0 SEC), who remained on top of the rankings for a 10th straight poll earlier Monday, put away the Aggies with a 27-8 run in the second half after seeing their double-digit lead shrink to 40-38. That’s when Mitchell made four consecutive free throws to start the run. She added four more points and Coates scored six points as South Carolina took control.
It was the Gamecocks fourth win over a ranked opponent this season and second against another powerhouse program in the SEC after a 68-60 win over then 10th-ranked Kentucky on Jan. 11.
“I don’t think we get too caught up in all of that,” Mitchell said. “We know at the end of the day we want to be the top team in the country. If we just keep going, we know that’s going to happen.”
The Gamecocks showed that against the Aggies (16-5, 4-3) with runs of 14-0 in the first half to take control and a 27-8 run after Texas A&M had rallied to get within 40-38 with almost 17 minutes to go.
“When everyone executes their role, that’s what happens,” Mitchell said.
South Carolina had been 0-3 all-time against the Aggies, including a 50-48 loss here two years ago that was the Gamecocks last loss at the Colonial Life Arena. But the Aggies struggled shooting as 14-point-a-game scorer Courtney Williams was 3 of 21 from the field.
Texas A&M coach Gary Blair said Williams faded when she didn’t get some early foul calls on missed shots. “But she’s got to quit whining and make those shots,” Blair said of his junior forward. “You’ve got to play big girl basketball when you play in the SEC.”
Achiri Ade led Texas A&M with 15 points. Courtney Walker, the SEC’s fifth-leading scorer, had 10 points, nearly five fewer than her average.
Aleighsa Welch was South Carolina’s fourth player in double figures, the senior starter scoring 12 before fouling out in the second half.
Coates, last year’s SEC freshman of the year, had her eighth game this season with double figure points and rebounds. Wilson, the 6-foot-5 forward, had nine rebounds and two blocks for the Gamecocks.
South Carolina hasn’t had too many problems in SEC play, winning its six previous games by an average of 21 points and just once letting the opponent reach 60 points.
The Aggies opened the used a 7-1 run at the start of the second half to cut the lead to 40-38 before South Carolina’s back-breaking run.
Texas A&M coach Gary Blair said he clearly broke the rules late in the game when he walked way out on the court to talk with an official and was called for his first technical in three years. “I wanted some attention,” he joked.
South Carolina’s bench outscored the reserves of Texas A&M 41-8. Of course, it helps when the Gamecocks can bring 6-foot-5 Wilson and the 6-4 Coates, last year’s SEC freshman of the year, in as subs. Wilson says they’ve embraced their roles as the Gamecocks chase a championship.
GAME PLANNING FOR UCONN
Texas A&M’s Blair told the Gamecocks coach Dawn Staley how to handle the big matchup with the Huskies in two weeks. “I told Dawn if she would go inside like she did against us against Connecticut, she’s got a great chance,” he said.
Texas A&M: Aggies athletic director Eric Hyman held the same job at South Carolina for seven years. He hired Gamecocks coach Dawn Staley away from Temple after the 2007-08 season.
South Carolina: The Gamecocks won their 27th straight at home, tying Connecticut for the nation’s longest active streak. No. 1 South Carolina plays at the second-ranked Huskies on Feb. 9.
Texas A&M: returns home to play Auburn on Sunday
South Carolina: continues its homestand Thursday night against Alabama.
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