COLUMBIA – A luxury for the Gamecocks this season is that they haven’t had to lean on defending Southeastern Conference Player of the Year Tiffany Mitchell to carry them.
But, when the junior from Charlotte senses her team may need a pick-me-up, she provides it.
That was the case against Vanderbilt on Sunday as South Carolina claimed an 89-59 victory in front of 15,255 at the Colonial Life Arena.
Mitchell scored 20 points and picked off four steals in leading the Gamecocks to victory.
“I’m not as vocal as some of our captains,” said Mitchell. “I just try to lead by example, which I did in kind of did in starting the flurry of scoring.”
The win was USC’s 30th straight at home, a school record. The Gamecocks are 24-1 overall and 12-0 in SEC play. It is only the second time in league play they have won 12 games, with the first coming last season when they won the conference regular season title.
Vanderbilt dropped to 13-12 overall and 4-8 in SEC action.
Mitchell scored 13 points in the first 10 minutes of the game, but really began to pull away when the second unit entered the game.
When that happened, freshman A’ja Wilson took over. By the end of the half USC owned a 46-27 advantage.
“The girls really help me out,” said Wilson. “They really talk to me and get my head straight and mentally prepared. Things are all falling together.”
Mitchell had 15 points in the first 20 minutes, while Wilson chipped in 13.
Wilson and the remainder of USC’s “second” five continued to play well as the Gamecocks began to pull away.
The USC bench out-scored the Commodore reserves 51-34.
“Obviously their best five came off the bench, pretty much,” Vanderbilt coach Melanie Balcomb said of USC. “To see them go to the table and (USC coach Dawn Staley) is mad at the first five, you’re in trouble … Mentally that’s really tough for a team when she has that depth.
“That depth and strength inside that comes in and is so aggressive is what makes them really different than any team in this league right now that I’ve seen.”
Wilson tied Mitchell for scoring honors with 20. She also pulled down five rebounds, had two assists and a steal.
Fellow inside performer Alaina Coates also came up big, scoring 14 points.
“We actually had a team meeting two days ago about the impact Alaina Coates has on our team,” said Staley. “When Alaina is engaged, our entire team is engaged.
The Gamecocks return to action on Thursday when they face the Arkansas Razorbacks in Fayetteville, Arkansas.