Gamecocks Frontcourt leads Gamecocks to 77-41 win in NCAA Tourna - FOX Carolina 21

Gamecocks Frontcourt leads Gamecocks to 77-41 win in NCAA Tournament opener

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COLUMBIA, SC (FOX Carolina) -

COURTESY: USC ATHLETICS

COLUMBIA, S.C. – Powered by its frontcourt duo of junior center Alaina Coates and sophomore forward A’ja Wilson, top-seeded South Carolina cruised past 16th-seeded Jacksonville, 77-41, in Friday’s NCAA Tournament First Round at Colonial Life Arena. Both Gamecocks notched double-doubles and combined for 37 points for No. 3/2 South Carolina, which will play ninth-seeded Kansas State in Sunday’s second round.

Defensive pressure led to 12 Jacksonville turnovers over the first 20 minutes and allowed the Gamecocks to build a double-digit lead at halftime before Coates took over following the break. The junior tallied nine of her game-high 22 points in the third period and converted six of her nine field goal attempts in the second half. Wilson finished with 15 points and 11 rebounds, while senior guard Tiffany Mitchell chipped in 14 points and two 3-pointers. 

South Carolina’s defense overwhelmed Jacksonville in the early going, forcing the Dolphins to miss each of their first six shot attempts. Free throws from guard Khadijah Sessions and Wilson gave the Gamecocks a 3-2 lead before Mitchell sliced through the Jacksonville defense and converted a layup to make it 5-2 midway through the first quarter. Bianca Cuevas’ 3-pointer capped South Carolina’s 7-0 scoring run and made it 11-2, and the Gamecocks took a 15-6 advantage into the first break after guard Tina Roy knocked down a jumper as time expired. Wilson provided the bulk of the offense for the Gamecocks in the opening period, tallying seven points to go along with four rebounds. Jacksonville committed six turnovers and was held to just two field goals in the first 10 minutes.

A pair of 3-pointers from the Dolphins helped cut the South Carolina lead to five at 19-14 in the second quarter, but the Gamecocks’ size advantage down low didn’t allow Jacksonville to get any closer. A free throw and basket by Coates stretched the lead to 22-14, and the junior’s third field goal of the period made it 30-21 with 2:15 left in the half. Coates and Wilson accounted for all of South Carolina’s final six points of the quarter, and the Gamecocks headed to the locker room leading, 32-21, after forcing Jacksonville to miss nine of its last 11 field goal attempts of the half.

Coates continued to produce down low in the third quarter, tallying the second half’s first four points to push the advantage to 36-21. Mitchell paced South Carolina’s offense over the next few minutes, as the guard went on a personal 7-0 run that was highlighted by a 3-pointer to give the Gamecocks their largest lead of the night at 43-23. The scoring continued to come from Coates and Mitchell, who combined for 19 of South Carolina’s 22 third-quarter points. Mitchell’s second 3-pointer of the period gave the Gamecocks a 49-30 lead, and Coates helped extend the lead back to 20 with a layup on South Carolina’s next trip down the floor. The Dolphins managed just nine third-quarter points, and the Gamecocks ended the period with a 54-30 advantage.

A 10-0 run midway through the final period pushed the advantage to 72-34, and Coates’ eighth field goal of the night gave the center 20 points with 8:40 left to play. Six different Gamecocks scored in the fourth quarter, and South Carolina’s defense remained strong down the stretch, as Jacksonville shot just 4-of-14 over the final 10 minutes.

Forward Briona Brown notched a team-high 17 points and converted three 3-pointers for the Dolphins, who shot just 28.0 percent from the floor. South Carolina held a 44-30 rebound advantage and finished the game with 15 more free throw attempts.

QUOTABLE

Head Coach Dawn Staley

On South Carolina’s defensive performance against Jacksonville

“Our program is built on defense. It’s the thing that we do extremely well, and we’re pretty consistent with it. When our offense catches up with our defense we look like a totally different basketball team.”

GAMECHANGER
The Gamecocks opened the second half on an 11-2 scoring run to stretch an 11-point lead into a 20-point advantage at 43-23. Center Alaina Coates and guard Tiffany Mitchell scored all of South Carolina’s points during that stretch.

KEY STAT

South Carolina boasted a 23-4 advantage in points off turnovers. The Gamecocks recorded 14 steals and caused 21 turnovers in Friday’s win.

NOTABLES

• South Carolina has earned victories in each of its five NCAA Tournament First Round games under head coach Dawn Staley. The Gamecocks won by at least 20 points in four of those five contests.

• Forward A’ja Wilson has finished in double figures in five of her six career NCAA Tournament games. The sophomore sports a scoring average of 12.8 points in tournament play.

• Junior center Alaina Coates’ performance against the Dolphins marked her fourth 20-point game of the season.

• South Carolina’s 14 steals were two short of its season high. The Gamecocks have totaled double-digit steals in five of their last six games.

UP NEXT

The Gamecocks continue NCAA Tournament play on Sun., March 20 when they face No. 9 seed Kansas State in the second round. The game tips off at 7 p.m. ET, and it will be broadcasted by ESPN.

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