COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — Alaina Coates had 18 points and 13 rebounds, defending Southeastern Conference player of the year Tiffany Mitchell scored 18 points and No. 2 South Carolina used a late 12-0 run to get past Southern Cal 70-61 on Saturday night.
The Gamecocks (1-0) trailed 53-52 on McKenzie Calvert’s breakaway basket with 6:55 left. That’s when South Carolina responded with a 12 straight points over the next three minutes to take control.
Coates, the SEC’s freshman of the year and co-sixth player of the year last season, had her 11th career double-double.
Highly touted newcomer A’ja Wilson, last year’s No. 1 college prospect, struggled in her debut with four points on 2-of-7 shooting.
Calvert and Kaneisha Horn had 11 points to lead Southern Cal.
The opener was supposed to an affirmation of the enormous preseason hype and an early victory lap for the defending Southeastern Conference champions. Instead, Southern Cal cut off the middle and made it difficult for the Gamecocks’ inside players to operate.
Wilson, the country’s top prospect who joined South Carolina over Connecticut, North Carolina and Tennessee, scored her team’s first basket, but couldn’t find any rhythm in her first college game.
The Gamecocks finally looked like they’d gotten going with an 11-2 run in the final five minutes of the first half to lead 27-18 behind Coates’ four baskets. But Southern Cal coach Cynthia Cooper called a late timeout to settle her squad.
The Trojans rallied back, scoring the final six points of the half to cut South Carolina’s lead to 27-24 at the break.
Coates and all-SEC first-teamer Aleighsa Welch helped the Gamecocks build a 39-32 lead early in the second period. Again, Southern Cal pushed back. The large crowd at Colonial Life Arena was silent when Calvert broke free for the go-ahead layup.
The mood lightened considerably when the Gamecocks went on their game-breaking run.
The matchup between the two 2014 NCAA tournament qualifiers was not pretty in the opening half.
South Carolina shot just 36 percent (9 of 25) while Southern Cal was much worse at 24.3 percent (9 of 37). The Gamecocks had 12 turnovers the first 20 minutes. They had averaged just 14 a game a year ago.
Southern Cal: The Trojans were back in the NCAA tournament last season for the first time since 2005-06, winning their first Pac 12 Conference tournament title.
South Carolina: The Gamecocks have been ranked in the top 10 for the past 12 polls, their longest streak since a 13-week run in the top 10 from Jan. 22, 1980 through Dec. 16, 1980 when South Carolina coach Dawn Staley was 10.
Southern Cal is at Davidson on Monday night
South Carolina plays rival Clemson on Thursday night.
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