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Published September 12, 2015
South Carolina coach Dawn Staley thinks her top-ranked team's sluggish showing at times Thursday night was more about its recent schedule than the next opponent.
The Gamecocks got 17 points from freshman A'ja Wilson, 16 from Elem Ibiam and 15 points and 13 rebounds from Alaina Coates to beat Charlotte 82-61, giving Staley her 300th career victory in 15 seasons as a college coach.
South Carolina (7-0) thumped the 49ers (1-6) as expected, although it was more of a struggle than most of the 9,629 fans at Colonial Life Arena expected.
The Gamecocks' next foe provides their biggest test this season — a visit to No. 9 Duke on Sunday.
If Staley's concerned, she's not showing it.
The Gamecocks have been busy the past couple of weeks, traveling to the Bahamas to win the Junkanoo Jam and then returning home for two games already since Monday.
"It's more about fatigue, mental fatigue, more than anything," Staley said. "Now that it's here, our players do as good a job as anyone at flipping the page. We're ready."
That didn't look the case at times in this one. Charlotte went right at South Carolina's much bigger lineup — the 49ers' tallest player was 6-foot-2 Olivia Rankin, while the Gamecocks had three 6-4 or taller — and led 19-18 on Lefty Webster's jumper with 11:49 to go.
That's when South Carolina grabbed control with a 28-9 run to halftime that the 49ers could not match the rest of the way. Ibiam, who shot 7 of 7 from the field, said the Gamecocks are prepared to play Duke.
"We want to go into every game confident," Ibiam said. "But we know it's going to be a challenge. We know how good Duke is and we're going to have to give our all on Sunday."
Charlotte has lost six straight, its longest skid in 15 years. Still, coach Cara Consuegra said her team can take many positives from this loss.
"Nobody wants to be 1-6 right now," she said. "But we have a great perspective."
Webster had 17 points to lead the 49ers.
Aleighsa Welch added 10 points for South Carolina.
After trailing 46-28 at halftime, Charlotte could not get any closer than 13 points in the second half.
Wilson added three blocks and three steals, while the 6-4 Coates had her third double-double of the season and 13th of her career.
While Charlotte stood strong early on, the Gamecocks' size advantage gradually helped them take control. Charlotte scored only four points in the last 8 minutes of the first half, all on foul shots as it missed 13 of its final 14 from the field.
Staley said she didn't think too much about No. 300. When she does, the seventh-year coach said she'll largely think about the players who achieved the victories. "Right now, I'm thinking about 301," Staley said.
Consuegra said her team missed its chance at a stunning upset during a 6-minute stretch late in the first half when South Carolina's lead grew from 30-24 to 46-28. "That 6-minute span, that really to me was the difference in the game," she said. "You take those 6 minutes out and it's a single-digit game for us."
Wilson came to South Carolina as the country's top college prospect and so far has lived up to that reputation. She's reached double figures in scoring in six of seven games, leading her team four times.
Charlotte: The 49ers are among 12 programs in the country to make the postseason in each of the past 12 years.
South Carolina: The Gamecocks' defense is clicking again this season. The team ranks third in the country, allowing just 45.5 points per game. South Carolina has given up 70 points only seven times in 109 games the past four seasons.
Charlotte returns home to play Charleston Southern on Sunday.
South Carolina heads to No. 9 Duke on Sunday.