Mitchell helps No. 2 South Carolina rout No. 20 Missouri
COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) Tiffany Mitchell handled second-ranked South Carolina's offense as the Gamecocks routed No. 20 Missouri.
Mitchell scored 19 points and keyed a run in the third quarter when Missouri tried to rally in the Gamecocks 83-58 win on Sunday.
The two-time SEC Player of the Year scored seven straight points in the third period after Missouri cut the Gamecocks' lead to 10. The Tigers (14-2, 1-2 SEC) barely got a clean look at the basket in the first half as USC (15-0, 3-0) played its best defense of the season, but USC began to crack in the third as Missouri's offense slipped into rhythm.
Mitchell, as she did against Vanderbilt in south Carolina's last game, took over. Two fast-break layups around the Gamecocks' first 3-pointer of the game restored the lead and she finished with a game-high 19 points.
''Coach (Dawn) Staley gives me a look to kind of take over sometimes,'' Mitchell said. ''I just try to read and get in the flow of the game.''
Missouri star freshman Sophie Cunningham entered the game ninth in the SEC in scoring but South Carolina's aggressive defense and two early fouls held her to nine points on 4-of-13 shooting.
''We felt like after playing Tennessee and seeing that kind of pressure, we felt like we could really learn and grown from it,'' Missouri coach Robin Pingeton said. ''We dug ourselves a pretty big hole in that first half.''
The Gamecocks placed sophomore A'ja Wilson in the paint and told her to concentrate on defense rather than scoring, and Wilson responded with six blocks, tying a career-high. She and Alaina Coates had double-doubles, Wilson scoring 11 with 11 rebounds while Coates had 13 and 12.
Wilson joked in the preseason about wanting to win SEC Defensive Player of the Year, but her performance is suggesting it's much more than a good quote. ''I hope the evolution of A'ja's defense is much like Alaina (Coates)' offense,'' Staley said. ''It's a goal of hers. The goal will be dangled out there and it could be hers for the taking.''
USC shot 42 percent but missed several point-blank looks at the basket. Once Mitchell began scoring in the third, the Gamecocks got back on track.
Each team did well denying the other team second-chance points. The Gamecocks and Tigers each had over 25 defensive rebounds while allowing limited offensive rebounds.
South Carolina: The Gamecocks lost their second guard in a week before the game when sophomore Kaydra Duckett left the team for the spring semester to focus on academics. Freshman Shay Colley left last week due to homesickness. The Gamecocks are down to 11 players.
Missouri: The Tigers notched their best start in program history by going 13-0 in the non-conference season, but the SEC schedule has brought them back to Earth. Missouri lost to Tennessee to start, won at Georgia and then lost at USC. The Tigers' next three games are hosting No. 7 Mississippi State, at Arkansas and at No. 13 Texas A&M.
Tina Roy passed to Mitchell in the corner and Mitchell converted the 3. The pointed finger from Mitchell to Roy to thank her for the assist also seemed to tell the Tigers that they were down to stay.
The win made USC's men's and women's teams a combined 30-0 to start the season. It's the fifth time in Division I history that a school's two teams won at least 30 games between them to start the year.
The Gamecocks recorded 14 steals and seven blocked shots while forcing 20 turnovers. While the production slowed in the second half (four steals and one block), the Tigers were hit so hard by the physical play that once their offense began flowing, players began fouling out.
South Carolina is at Kentucky on Thursday.
Missouri hosts Mississippi State on Thursday.