COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) South Carolina forward Alaina Coates said coach Dawn Staley had a stern, succinct message for her cold-shooting Gamecocks early on against Jacksonville.
“She told us to pound the ball in the paint,” Coates said.
It’s worked for the top-seeded Gamecocks all season – and it worked once more to start the NCAA Tournament as twin post powers Coates and A’ja Wilson each had double doubles to lift South Carolina to a 77-41 victory over Jacksonville on Friday night.
The 6-foot-4 Coates had 22 points and 10 rebounds while 6-5 Wilson had 15 points and 11 boards.
The Gamecocks (32-1) next play No. 9 seed Kansas State on Sunday for a spot in the Sweet 16. Expect the game plan to go much like it did against first-time NCAA participant Dolphins (22-11).
South Carolina started just 2 of 9 from the field, often settling for shots away from the basket. Soon enough, though, Staley’s words got through and began a game of pitch and catch between Gamecock guards and Coates and Wilson. The two combined to shoot 15 of 30 from the field as the smaller Dolphins – their tallest player is 6-1 – had no way to respond.
“They just wore us down,” Jacksonville coach Yolett McPhee-McCuin said. “We just physically could not match with their bigs.”
Not many teams can. The one team that did this season was three-time defending NCAA champion UConn, who defeated South Carolina 66-54 a month ago.
Staley liked how her team stepped things up in the second half to turn an 11-point game into a blowout. The NCAA Tournament is a process, Staley says. She hopes to have the Gamecocks primed to challenge the Huskies at the Final Four next month.
“Obviously, we’ve been in this situation before. We’re familiar with it and nothing’s going to catch us off guard,” Staley said. “So it’s a process for our players to see what issues we had in this game and try and correct those things.”
The Dolphins were the Atlantic Sun Conference champions who came in with an eight-game winning streak, but quickly fell behind and could not catch up.
Briona Brown had 17 points to lead Jacksonville.
Tiffany Mitchell had 14 points for South Carolina, who has beaten its past five first-round opponents by an average of 27 points.
Jacksonville was ready to enjoy its first NCAA Tournament experience and, as coach Yolett McPhee-McCuin said Thursday, maybe “throw a little scare” into the Gamecocks.
That did not happen, although the Dolphins did hold a 2-0 lead on Sherranda Riddick’s two foul shots. Jacksonville didn’t score again for another six minutes as the Gamecocks steadily took over.
They were ahead by nine points at the end of the quarter and led 32-21 at the break.
Wilson, both the Southeastern Conference’s player of the year and defensive player of the year, was her dominant self, scoring 11 points and grabbing seven rebounds the first two quarters.
Jacksonville couldn’t hold up against South Carolina’s quick hands and pressure defense. The Gamecocks forced 21 turnovers and finished with 14 steals, their third highest total this season.