Mitchell scores 17 to lead No. 2 South Carolina to 88-57 win
MYRTLE BEACH, S.C. (AP) The Southeastern Conference might want to watch out. The league's reigning player of the year is starting to feel better.
Tiffany Mitchell scored 17 points to lead No. 2 South Carolina (11-0) to an 88-57 win Sunday over East Carolina with conference season looming in just a few weeks.
Mitchell has been consistently getting her game back in shape since foot surgery in August. ''I have given myself until January to kind of get things going, but I'm starting to feel a lot better,'' Mitchell said.
The reigning Southeastern Conference player of the year was 5 of 9 from the field - the first time this season she's shot better than 50 percent. But South Carolina coach Dawn Staley said Mitchell also had a season-best on the other side of the court, which is important because she was on the 2014 all-SEC defensive team.
''Tiffany Mitchell looked like Tiffany Mitchell on both sides of the ball,'' Staley said.
South Carolina took control of a physical game in the second quarter, outscoring East Carolina 23-11 as the Pirates (6-6) made just three of their 15 shots in the quarter with just one bucket in the lane.
A'ja Wilson returned from resting shin splints for two games to add 15 points and 10 rebounds, while Alania Coates added 10 points and 15 rebounds.
I'tiana Taylor scored 16 points despite picking up three fouls in the first quarter, while Jada Payne added 14 for East Carolina.
East Carolina shot just 28 percent, while South Carolina made of 48 percent of its shots. The Gamecocks scored 48 points in the paint, while the Pirates had just 18 points.
Playing their third game in three days, the Pirates decided to slow South Carolina down by playing physical, which worked for most of the first quarter. The Gamecocks led 21-15 after the first 10 minutes, but starting guard Khadijah Sessions had two charging calls on back-to-back possessions and sat out the rest of the first half.
Two East Carolina players picked up three fouls in the first quarter and got a technical. One played picked up coach Heather Macy in her arms as she charged at the referees after the technical and placed her back by the bench.
''Call that passion,'' East Carolina coach Heather Macy said.
East Carolina: The Pirates lost all three games this weekend, to Chattanooga on Friday and Ohio on Saturday in Wilmington, North Carolina ... East Carolina has beaten South Carolina just once in 16 games - the very first meeting in February 1975.
South Carolina: Coates has had at least a double-double in her past three games ... The Gamecocks face one more American Athletic Conference opponent this year. No. 1 Connecticut comes to Columbia on Feb. 8 ... The Gamecocks now have a winning 7-6 record when playing in Myrtle Beach.
HOME SWEET BEACH
South Carolina's nearly annual trip to Myrtle Beach is part of a high school tournament, and Staley expects that to continue. Gamecocks fans like the holiday trip, and even brought two buses to watch Sunday's game.
''It's impressive when you look out into the stands and all you see is garnet and black,'' Staley said of the full stands at the Myrtle Beach Convention Center.
EPIC ROAD TRIP
East Carolina has not played at home since Nov. 20. The Pirates are 2-6 and have more game at Tulsa before ending 42 days away from home with a Jan. 2 game against South Florida.
Macy said she would love to play more at home, where the team has gone 41-6 since the start of the 2012-13 season. But the kinds of quality teams Macy wants to play to keep building her program won't visit eastern North Carolina.
''People don't want to come to Greenville to play, so that leads to playing nine games on the road,'' Macy said.
East Carolina finishes its marathon road swing Dec. 30 with its American Athletic Conference opener at Tulsa.
South Carolina hosts Elon on Tuesday.