COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) - Freshman Alaina Coates doesn’t see No. 7 South Carolina’s front line as unstoppable, even if few Southeastern Conference opponents have figured out how to handle the Gamecocks underneath the boards.
The 6-foot-4 Coates tied her career high with 24 points, added 12 rebounds and helped South Carolina’s forwards wear out Mississippi in a 99-70 victory Thursday night.
It was Coates’ seventh game with double-figure points and rebounds, her fourth in SEC play for the Gamecocks (19-2, 7-1). And she wasn’t alone. Teammate Elem Ibiam, a 6-4 junior, had 14 points, eight rebounds and five of South Carolina’s seven blocked shots. Six-footer Aleighsa Welch had 11 points and four boards.
Combined, the trio consistently got close to the basket and combined to shoot 18 of 22 from the field against the Rebels (10-12, 1-7).
“I’m not going to say we’re unstoppable, but I feel like having us in the paint, it’s hard to stop us,” Coates said. “We’re going to continue to do what we do.”
That’s been plenty to stay atop the SEC, tied with No. 17 Texas A&M at 7-1. Ibiam says the forwards take pride in dominating down low.
“If I’m off, I always have my ‘Big Girl’ (Coates) in there and vice versa,” Ibiam said. “We always have each other’s back, so that’s a good feeling.”
Valencia McFarland led Ole Miss with 24 points, her fourth game in the past five with at least 20 points. Tia Faleru added 19 points.
The Gamecocks put things away when they closed the opening half with a 19-1 run to lead 44-25. The Rebels never got closer than 17 points after that.
“We’ve played a lot of top 10 teams this year and South Carolina is the best team we’ve played so far this season,” Ole Miss coach Matt Insell said.
The lone drama left at the end was whether the Gamecocks would reach the century mark for the first time since the end of the 2007-08 season. They had a final possession with 16 seconds left when coach Dawn Staley told her players to dribble out the clock.
“It was the unpopular right decision,” Staley said with a smile.
The Gamecocks last scored 100 points in a win over North Carolina State, 102-74 to start the Women’s NIT on March
Tiffany Mitchell had 15 points, point guard Kadijah Sessions 11 and Tiffany Davis 11 as South Carolina had six players with double-figure scoring.
The Gamecocks came into the week with their highest ranking in 12 years. They also rebounded strongly from their lone league loss at SEC co-leader Texas A&M on Jan. 16 by subduing Alabama (77-52) and outlasting then 16th-ranked Vanderbilt in Nashville, 61-57.
While Ole Miss has lost six of its past seven games, it used its size and speed to hang with South Carolina most of the opening half, overcoming a technical foul by Insell after he strongly complained to officials following a foul call on his team.
But after the Gamecocks opened a 21-12 lead on Tiffany Davis’ 3-pointer, the Rebels responded with a 12-4 run the next five minutes to get within a point after Amber Singletary’s foul shots.
The Mississippi push was led by McFarland, the SEC’s fourth-leading scorer at 16.4 points a game, and Kenyotta Jenkins, a 5-foot-10 senior who used to her quick step to get around South Carolina’s taller defenders. McFarland had six points and Jenkins eight in the run.
Then the Gamecocks reasserted their dominance underneath and finished the half on a 19-1 run the last seven minutes to lead 44-25 at the break.
Coates had a three-point play and another inside basket while leading scorer Mitchell added six points in the surge.
Ibiam had all of South Carolina’s five first-half blocks to go along with six rebounds.
Ole Miss struggled to find its shot or match up with the Gamecocks, tall front line. The Rebels were 0 of 7 from behind the arc, Shequila Joseph missed her four long-range attempts. They also trailed in the rebounding department, getting just four defensive boards to South Carolina’s 16 the first 20 minutes.
The Rebels finished 3 of 14 from behind the arc.
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