COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) When No.2 South Carolina needed someone to make a big shot, the Gamecocks again turned to their Southeastern Conference player of the year.
Tiffany Mitchell scored 18 points, including key 3-pointers as the Gamecocks trailed or nursed small leads, to lead South Carolina to a tougher than expected 78-63 win over Elon on Tuesday night.
South Carolina (12-0) had trailed for just over five minutes in its past four games coming in, all of it against No. 13 Duke at the beginning of the month. But Elon (7-3) came out aggressive and led 20-13 early in the second quarter, matching South Carolina's biggest deficit of the year.
Mitchell buried her first 3 as the Gamecocks climbed back to the lead. Her second basket from behind the arc came early in the third quarter as Elon rallied back to tie it again at 41 and her final 3 late in the third quarter sparked a 12-2 run that put South Carolina ahead double-digits for the rest of the game.
''Really good players have a sense when they need to make shots and stop a run,'' South Carolina coach Dawn Staley said of her senior guard.
Alania Coates added 16 points and eight rebounds, and A'ja Wilson added 12 points and eight rebounds for the Gamecocks.
Jenifer Rhodes led Elon with 19 points, while Shay Burnett 15 points and seven rebounds.
The Phoenix stayed in the game by shooting well and keeping the turnover battle close. The Phoenix shot 44 percent, the best of any South Carolina opponent this season. Elon turned the ball over 17 times, while the Gamecocks had 14 turnovers. Elon also held South Carolina to its second-lowest rebound total of the season.
''You hold them to 34 rebounds, that's a pretty good job,'' Elon coach Charlotte Smith said. ''But there were times we just couldn't stop second-chance opportunities.''
South Carolina had 11 of its 15 offensive rebounds in the second half.
Elon: The Phoenix fell to 0-9 against top 25 teams. ... Elon is 2-2 against South Carolina, but both wins came in 1975. ... Elon has made the semifinals of its conference tournament, but no further the past three seasons.
South Carolina: The Gamecocks won their 40th game in a row at Colonial Life Arena, the second-longest home winning streak in the country. ... South Carolina coach Dawn Staley and Elon coach Charlotte Smith played together for the Charlotte Sting of the WNBA for six years.
When Elon took the 20-13 lead with 8:58 left in the second quarter, Staley put Wilson back in, even though she had two fouls.
The gamble worked. Wilson kept her hands and body to herself and the Gamecocks went on a 22-7 run.
''I didn't think twice about it,'' Staley said.
South Carolina again looked tentative and slow to start a game. The Gamecocks trailed 18-13 at the end of the first quarter. They have led by 10 at the end of the first only twice in the past eight games.
Mitchell said it is something she wants to fix. ''You can't do that going into SEC play'' in 12 days, she said.
Staley thinks this team takes a more deliberate approach than last year's Final Four squad
''They just take things in at the beginning of the game,'' Staley said. ''I don't think it's intentional.''
Elon travels to West Virginia on Tuesday.
South Carolina hosts Arkansas in the SEC opener for both teams on Jan. 3