COLUMBIA — Tiffany Mitchell didn’t pay attention to the accolades when South Carolina was No. 1. So she’s surely not worried about the Gamecocks losing the top spot they’ve held the past three months.
Mitchell and A’ja Wilson scored 20 points apiece as No. 1 South Carolina remained perfect in Southeastern Conference play — and capped an eventful week — with an 89-59 victory over Vanderbilt on Sunday.
The Gamecocks (24-1, 12-0 SEC) undefeated season crash landed last Monday with an 87-62 loss at No. 2 Connecticut, expected to move back on top when the new rankings come out Monday
South Carolina responded to the defeat with a pair of SEC blowouts to stay on track for its second straight league championship.
“If we were one or 101, we’re still going to play our same basketball,” she said.
Against Vanderbilt (13-12, 4-8), that was a smothering, push-the-pace style the Commodores couldn’t match.
Mitchell, the defending SEC player of the year, sparked South Carolina with 15 first-half points while the 6-foot-5 freshman Wilson kept the pressure on inside as she made 10 of 11 from the foul line.
“I think we’re taking strides and taking strides at the right moment,” Mitchell said.
Rebekah Dalhman led Vanderbilt with 13 points before fouling out.
Mitchell, fifth in SEC scoring at 14.8 points a game coming in, reached 20 points for the fourth time this year, but just the first in SEC play.
Wilson had a career high 26 points in the win over LSU this past Thursday.
Alaina Coates added 14 points for the Gamecocks, who won their 30th straight game at home — the country’s second longest streak behind Connecticut.
South Carolina coach Dawn Staley was proud of her players for how they recovered following the disappointing loss to the Huskies. “You can draw on those experiences that we had on Monday night to get us through whatever we’ll face in the future,” Staley said. “I think our players did a tremendous job at having that bad taste in their mouth and they followed that up with two pretty good wins at home.”
Mitchell hit four straight shots, two of her buckets off steals, yet the Gamecocks were tied with Vanderbilt at 15-all after Dahlman’s basket with 11:29 to go.
That’s when South Carolina took off on a 31-12 surge the rest of the half. Mitchell got it going with a jumper then added her sixth straight basket to push the lead to 22-17.
Mitchell finished the half with 15 points and Wilson 13 on 7-of-7 shooting from the foul line.
Vanderbilt, which averages 20 turnovers a game, had 13 in the opening half, falling prey to the quick hands of South Carolina defenders. The Gamecocks had 10 steals in the period, surpassing their game average of nine.
South Carolina coach Dawn Staley deflected the focus off her team’s next home game, Feb. 23 against No. 6 Tennessee, which figures to go a long way toward settling the SEC championship chase. Both teams were undefeated in SEC play heading into the weekend. Staley said her players are only looking at the next one Thursday night against Arkansas before worrying about Tennessee.
Vanderbilt coach Melanie Balcomb was impressed at the atmosphere South Carolina’s built at the Colonial Life Arena. “I think it’s a big deal that (football coach) Steve Spurrier supports the program here,” she said. “He’s on TV supporting the program and coming out. If he comes, people are going to come, right?”
Vanderbilt: The Commodores had limited opponents to 31 rebounds a game which ranks No. 1 in the SEC. That broke down against the Gamecocks, who collected 43 boards.
South Carolina: The Gamecocks lead the SEC in several categories, most notably scoring offense (76.7 points a game) and scoring defense (53.6 points a game). They are also tops in the league in field goal percentage and field goal defense.
Vanderbilt plays at Florida on Thursday night.
South Carolina travels to Arkansas on Thursday night.