No. 1 South Carolina beats Liberty 84-44
MINNEAPOLIS (AP) Just a freshman, A'ja Wilson has already emerged as a top threat for South Carolina.
Wilson came off the bench for 17 points and 10 rebounds to get her second career double-double and No. 1 South Carolina cruised past Liberty 84-44 Sunday.
Aleighsa Welch scored 15 points and Tiffany Mitchell added 14 for the Gamecocks (12-0), who have 12 days off before beginning Southeastern Conference play.
''I'm very proud because their minds could have been any place besides trying to win a game here, but they focused in at the task at hand,'' said coach Dawn Staley.
Simone Brown led the Lady Flames (6-5) with 12 points. Ashley Rininger and Karly Buer each added 10.
The win, at the Subway Classic being hosted by the University of Minnesota, allowed the Gamecocks to tie the school-record win streak of 12 set during the 2001-02 and 1979-80 seasons.
''We're just playing our game, we're just taking it in stride,'' Wilson said. ''I'm very excited for conference play. ... There's so much I have to learn. I want to learn everything there is to learn about this game.''
After a slow start, the Gamecocks dominated.
Trailing 12-11 nearly 7 minutes into the game, South Carolina was able to get the ball inside to spark a 16-0 run and take control. The 6-foot-5 Wilson had a pair of 3-point plays during the spurt and Welch, a 6-footer, added four points.
''I'm getting used to the collegiate level,'' Wilson said. ''I think day-by-day I'm getting better and getting a feel for it.''
That bodes well for the Gamecocks, who return all five starters on a team that has 10 returning letterwinners.
Wilson started the season opener but has come off the bench since, averaging 15.1 points and 6.6 rebounds in those 11 games. Overall on the season, Wilson is second on the team in scoring at 14.2 points per game.
''A'ja's just playing hard and inspired, being real aggressive,'' Staley said. ''She should have a double-double every time she steps on the floor. She can score the ball. Five rebounds are going to be in her area, she just has to go get the other five that are outside her area. We're constantly working on her and just trying to teach her some of the things she'll need once the novelty wears off.''
Using their height advantage and quickness, the Gamecocks finished with a 40-24 advantage in points in the paint and held a 46-30 rebounding edge.
''We just want to use our size and make the easy pass and get the easy shot,'' Wilson said.
Three-pointers by Asia Dozier and Mitchell keyed a 13-4 run for a 44-20 halftime lead for the Gamecocks. Elem Ibiam, a 6-foot-4 center, had four points down low in the surge.
''We just weren't consistent against a very good team,'' said Liberty coach Carey Green. ''They're good athletes. You make a mistake and they can turn you over real quick.''
An inside move by Welch and fast-break layup by Mitchell stretched the lead to 57-28 6 minutes into the second half. Five points by Wilson and four points by Alaina Coates keyed a 15-0 South Carolina run for a 72-36 lead about 6 minutes later.
Coates and Ibiam each finished with 11 points.
South Carolina: The Gamecocks shot 48.4 percent from the field. They entered the game shooting 49.1 percent - eighth best in the nation. ... South Carolina was 17 of 26 from the free-throw line.
Liberty: Brown has scored in double figures in six straight games. ... The Lady Flames faced the nation's No. 1 team for the first time since March 14, 1998, when top-ranked Tennessee defeated Liberty 102-58 in the first round of the NCAA Tournament.
Mitchell's fifth point of the game early in the first half gave the junior guard 1,000 career points, joining Welch at the milestone. The last time South Carolina had a pair of 1,000-point scorers on the same team was 2001-02 with Shaunzinski Gortman and Jocelyn Pennboth.
South Carolina is home against Auburn Jan. 2.
Liberty is at UNC Asheville Dec. 30.