COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) With No. 2 South Carolina’s 86-37 win Sunday over Winthrop essentially decided in the first quarter, the only drama left was whether Alaina Coates could get the block she needed for the Gamecocks’ first triple-double in nine years.
It took her nearly the entire fourth quarter and four fouls, but the junior finally swatted one more shot with 18 seconds left to finish with a school-record 10 blocks, along with a career-best 29 points and 16 rebounds.
”We wanted it to happen for her. Obviously, you get a little antsy about leaving her in being up so big,” South Carolina coach Dawn Staley said.
The Gamecocks (9-0) are in the easy portion of their schedule, with no ranked teams until mid-January. South Carolina never trailed Sunday, scoring 14 straight points after Winthrop (2-7) tied the game at 2-2.
The Eagles couldn’t handle South Carolina’s size. The four 6-footers for the Gamecocks – Coates, Asia Dozier, Jatarie White and Sarah Imovbioh – shot a combined 21 of 24 and scored 49 points. South Carolina outscored Winthrop 50-18 on points in the paint and held the Eagles to 25 percent shooting.
Erica Williams scored 10 points for Winthrop, barely extending her 23-game double figures streak.
Tiffany Mitchell, last season’s Southeastern Conference player of the year, scored 12 points, playing only 22 minutes in the blowout for South Carolina.
The mismatch gave Staley a chance to experiment. The Gamecocks played zone for much of the second half and put unusual lineups on the court.
It also allowed star forward A’ja Wilson to rest. She didn’t play because of some nagging injuries, and Staley said the sophomore would be day-to-day as to whether she returned for South Carolina’s next game against Hampton on Wednesday.
Wilson’s absence gave Coates a chance to shine. Her teammates told her she needed the extra block, and they cringed each time she missed her chance.
”It was so frustrating. I was just trying to get it. My teammates were like, just keep your hands straight up,” Coates said. ”And when I did that, I finally got it. I was knocking people in the middle of the air with the body when I was trying to swat it.”
Winthrop coach Kevin Cook said South Carolina’s decision to experiment with different offenses is the only thing that stopped Coates.
”She probably could have had 50 if they continued to go inside,” Cook said.
Cook was an assistant coach for the WNBA’s Houston Comets in 2005 when Staley was traded to the team for her final season. Cook said Staley has exceeded even his lofty expectations in her post-playing career. ”She was going to be a great coach. I didn’t know she was going to be that great a recruiter,” Cook said.
HE SAID IT
”Noah’s Ark has two of everything. South Carolina has three of everything.”- Cook on how South Carolina could rest Wilson and not miss a beat.
Winthrop: Senior center and all-Big South center Schaquilla Nunn is out for the season for the Eagles with a broken foot. She averaged 14 points and 11 rebounds last season. … Winthrop has finished third in the Big South three years in a row, winning the conference tournament in 2014.
South Carolina: The Gamecocks have won 38 straight games at home, the second longest streak in the nation. … South Carolina has started 9-0 for the fourth straight season. The Gamecocks started that well only twice before Staley arrived in 2008 … Sunday’s game against Winthrop was the second of six in the state of South Carolina for the Gamecocks, who played five of their first seven on the road.
Winthrop is at Auburn on Wednesday.
South Carolina hosts Hampton on Wednesday.