In a matchup of top-20 teams, the South Carolina Lady Gamecocks defeated Vanderbilt, 61-57. The victory brings Carolina to 18-2/6-1 on the season, good for the program's best-ever start in SEC play. With Texas A&M getting hammered by Tennessee this evening, Carolina is now tied for first in the league with the Lady Aggies.
Although this was an ensemble performance, Tiffany Mitchell was Carolina's biggest individual star today. Mitchell led Carolina in scoring, and she was at her best when she was most needed. In a tight second half, it seemed like every time Vandy made a run, Mitchell made a key bucket to curb the momentum swing. Never was that more true than in the final minute, when Mitchell broke a tie with jumper at 50 seconds left and then pushed the lead to four a few seconds later after converting a layup off a steal.
Although Mitchell starred from the guard position, post play was also essential to this Carolina victory. Elem Ibiam, Aleighsha Welch, and Alaina Coates gave Carolina a distinct height/strength advantage in the post, and the Lady Gamecocks used it to outscore Vandy 46-32 in the paint.
The biggest negative in the game was the Lady Gamecocks' 24 turnovers. That Vandy didn't score more points than they did given all of Carolina's turnovers is a testament to how well our defense played. Vandy came into the game as the SEC's best three-point shooting team, but Carolina clamped down on the outside and held the Lady 'Dores to one of five from beyond the arc. By forcing Vandy to take more shots inside against our height advantage, USC was able to hold Vandy to 36% from the field overall.
Carolina was a two-seed in Charlie Creme's last bracketology. It's unclear whether Carolina can rise any higher with thoroughly dominant teams like UConn and Notre Dame currently holding down half of the top four, but if the Lady Gamecocks can navigate a tough final five games of the season unscathed, who knows?