GAINESVILLE, Fla. (AP) — After a back-and-forth first quarter that saw six lead changes, South Carolina coach Dawn Staley wanted her team to speed up the pace against a short-benched Florida side.
The move quickly paid off.
The fifth-ranked Gamecocks outscored Florida 26-5 in the closing 10 minutes of the first half and cruised to an 81-62 win Sunday that kept them perfect in Southeastern Conference play.
“When you come out and you play with a target on your back, people are going to give you their best effort, especially at the beginning of the game,” Staley said. “We have to be prepared for that.”
A’ja Wilson and Alaina Coates each recorded double-doubles as South Carolina (13-1, 3-0) beat the Gators (9-6, 0-3) for the eighth straight time.
Wilson scored 23 points and had 13 rebounds before leaving with 4:19 to play after injuring her right ankle. She was taken to the locker room with a pair of trainers flanked to her side.
Staley said the junior will be evaluated when they return home.
Coates scored 14 points and corralled 13 rebounds.
Florida had only eight players, and several ran into early foul trouble.
Allisha Gray and Wilson combined for 16 of South Carolina’s points in that second-quarter flurry to give the Gamecocks a 47-24 halftime advantage.
Gray added 18 points for South Carolina before fouling out.
“A marathon is not won in the first mile,” Staley said. “We have to run it all the way through.”
The Gators missed 13 of their 14 shots to close out the first half and ended the game shooting a season-low 36.5 percent.
Freshman Delicia Washington led Florida with 18 points and Haley Lorenzen added 15.
“Obviously we’re disappointed that we lost,” Florida coach Amanda Butler said. “I think that some people, especially against a good team like South Carolina, are OK with respectable losses. That’s not the way that we’re wired.”
Should Wilson miss significant time, it could be a costly blow for the Gamecocks. The 6-foot-5 forward leads South Carolina with an average of 16.9 points per game and is making 56.7 percent of her shots.
Five minutes into the second half, three of the Gators’ eight active players — Washington, Lorenzen and senior center Tyshara Fleming — already had four fouls each. Fleming and senior Ronni Williams fouled out of the game in the fourth quarter.
With its two road wins this week — at Florida and a 73-47 win over Auburn on Thursday — the Gamecocks should hold firm in the top five when the next poll comes out on Monday.
South Carolina: The Gamecocks have won seven in a row and are averaging 80.6 points during their streak. Those wins have come by an average margin of 29.1 points.
Florida: The Gators have continued their recent skid since star sophomore guard Eleanna Christinaki left the team on Dec. 11 after refusing to accept a suspension. Florida is 3-4 in its last seven games and has now lost its first three conference games for the first time since the 2006-07 season.
The Gamecocks return home to face Georgia on Thursday at 7 p.m. South Carolina has won four straight against the Bulldogs.
The Gators face their second straight top five team when they travel to play No. 4 Mississippi State on Thursday night.
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