- Associated Press - Wednesday, January 15, 2014

COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) - South Carolina leads the Southeastern Conference and coach Dawn Staley believes her young club can stay on top for a while.

The eighth-ranked Gamecocks are already off to their best start in school history at 16-1. They can top their mark for best SEC start at 5-0 if they win at No. 25 Texas A&M; on Thursday night.

South Carolina has used a blend of youth, speed and timely defense to move ahead usual SEC powers Tennessee, Kentucky, LSU, Georgia and Vanderbilt in the rankings. Staley, though, is looking for even more.

“This does feel pretty good,” Staley said Wednesday. “But I’m greedy when it comes to wanting it all.”

And she’s got the Gamecocks poised for long-term success in the SEC and beyond.

Eight of the 12 players on the roster are sophomores or freshmen. Four of the Gamecocks top six scorers are underclassmen led by sophomore shooter Tiffany Mitchell. Freshman Alaina Coates, at 6-foot-4, is sixth in SEC rebounding and third in league blocks.

Coates has had six games this season with double figure scoring and rebounds, three of those in SEC play the past two weeks.

Mitchell, the team’s top scorer at 15.6 points a game, has not gotten caught up in the fast start and doesn’t believe her teammates have either.

“I don’t think we’re too high on, ‘Oh, we’re a top-ranked SEC team right now,’” Mitchell said. “We’re about doing what we’ve done to get here in the first place.”

That’s to buy into Staley’s style of speed on offense and toughness on defense.

Staley used that ethic to reach three Final Fours at Virginia, win three gold medals with the U.S. Olympic team and make the NCAA tournament eight times in her previous 13 years as a college coach at Temple and South Carolina.

Her Gamecocks showed that tenacity to outlast 10th-ranked Kentucky, 68-59, in a top-10 showdown last Thursday night. South Carolina used a second-half rally - it trailed Auburn by double-digits early on - to push past the Tigers, 72-66, on Sunday and remain undefeated in SEC play.

Mitchell said the coaches are continually preaching humility.

“They tell us to stay humble and hungry to keep rolling,” she said. “That’s what we intend to do.”

The Gamecocks most difficult hurdles this season may come this month. They go to No. 23 Vanderbilt on Jan. 26 and then don’t face another ranked opponent back-to-back road games at No. 14 LSU and No. 10 Kentucky in mid-February.

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