COLUMBIA, South Carolina — The sting of losing to UConn hasn't disappeared. Dawn Staley, though, was happy to see No. 2 South Carolina get back on track with an 86-71 victory over No. 16 Florida on Thursday night.
It was the Gamecocks' (23-1, 11-0 Southeastern Conference) first contest since its 66-54 showdown loss to the top-ranked Huskies here this past Monday night and Staley thought her emotionally tired team showed fire and grit in bouncing back against the Gators.
"This team has been through a Connecticut loss and we know what that feels like," said Staley, whose Gamecocks fell at UConn in 2015 in another No. 1-vs.-No. 2 showcase. "Usually, we get right back to the task at hand and that's what we did.
"But there is residual feelings of losing, of how we lost and wanting to play better" against UConn, she acknowledged.
Tiffany Mitchell scored 22 points and Alaina Coates had her 13th double-double this season with 14 points and 11 rebounds to lead the Gamecocks.
South Carolina overcame a sluggish start — likely a UConn hangover. They went on a 16-0 run in the second quarter to take control, 35-16.
"We have a pretty resilient group," Mitchell said. "We wouldn't let one loss to UConn try to defer what we're trying to do in the long run. We know what our ultimate goal is in the long run."
Right now, that's a third straight SEC title. The Gamecocks are undefeated in the league and their nearest chasers all have four defeats. That means a win at No. 25 Tennessee on Monday night would lock up a share of the league crown.
"We're not looking too far ahead," Mitchell said. "We know Tennessee is a big game."
The Gators (19-5, 7-4) closed to 65-57 with seven minutes left when Coates had two inside baskets to restore South Carolina's double-digit lead.
A'ja Wilson added to South Carolina's dominance underneath with 13 points, nine rebounds and four blocks.
Carla Batchelor had a career-best 19 points to lead the Gators, who have lost seven straight to South Carolina.
Florida coach Amanda Butler said her team wasn't aggressive enough in the second quarter when the Gamecocks made their game-changing run. "It was just not us," she said. "We weren't attacking or aggressive."
South Carolina won its 24th straight SEC game at home, a streak that dates to February 2013.
It was certainly not the atmosphere surrounding Monday's loss this time at Colonial Life Arena and it seemed to spread to the Gamecocks slow first quarter when they had trouble managing Florida's full-court pressure and swarming defense.
South Carolina finally got going in the second quarter and turned a tight game into a blowout.
Wilson had four points and three blocks in the stretch, while Bianca Cuevas and Tina Roy hit 3-pointers to extend the lead. When Jatarie White scored on an inside bucket, the Gamecocks were ahead 35-16.
Florida missed its first nine shots of the period to fall behind. The Gators rallied to close the quarter on a 15-8 run and trailed 43-31 at the half.
South Carolina showed off its defense, as well, holding Florida's two leading scorers in Ronni Williams and Eleanna Christinaki to 11 points combined on 4 of 18 shooting. Williams and Christinaki came in averaging nearly 22 points a game between them.
For Coates, it was her 35th career game with double-figure points and rebounds. She had just two points against UConn on Monday night.
Florida: The Gators are ninth nationally in scoring offense at 81 points a game in large part because of their depth. Nine players score at least 5.1 points a game.
South Carolina: This was the Gamecocks seventh game against a ranked SEC opponent this season, the most in the league so far.
Dawn Staley earned her 350th career win in 16 years as a college coach at Temple and South Carolina. "There have been some special (wins) wrapped up in there," she said. "But the biggest one is yet to come."
Emotions flared a couple of times down the stretch with both South Carolina point guard Khadijah Sessions and Florida coach Amanda Butler getting called for technical fouls. On Butler's call, she said she was just frustrated and let the official know. "What can you say," she said. "I was frustrated and showed that in a way that was unsettling to the official."
Florida is at Auburn on Sunday
South Carolina travels to No. 25 Tennessee on Monday night.