COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — Mississippi first-year coach Matt Insell watched his smaller, less physical players get outmuscled against No. 7 South Carolina and couldn't stop thinking about the time that would no longer be the case.
Insell spent time visiting with South Carolina coach Dawn Staley before the Gamecocks' dominating, 99-70 victory over the Rebels on Thursday night, picking her brain about building a winner in the Southeastern Conference.
"I asked Dawn a lot of advice as she did the same thing here at South Carolina," said Insell, who spent the past five seasons as a Kentucky assistant. "Three years, four years from now, we're going to be at the same stage as she is (now). And we're looking forward to that."
Right now, though, the Rebels (10-12, 1-7 SEC) are struggling to matchup against the top tier teams in the SEC. That happened again as Ole Miss lost to a fourth ranked SEC opponent this season.
This time, South Carolina's strength and size — the Gamecocks' three forwards in Alaina Coates, Elem Ibiam and Aleighsa Welch combined for 49 points and 24 rebounds — wore down Mississippi, which was outscored 19-1 in the final seven minutes of the first half to trail 44-25.
"We've got to learn from this and get better," Insell said.
A bright spot for the Rebels again was point guard Valencia McFarland, who finished with 24 points. It was the fourth time in the past five she's posted 20 or more. "I feel like I've got the best point guard in the SEC," Insell said.
But McFarland's play wasn't enough to hold off South Carolina (19-2, 7-1).
The 6-foot-4 Coates tied her career high with 24 points and added 12 rebounds for her seventh double-double this season. Ibiam had 14 points, eight rebounds and five blocks. Welch went for 11 points and four rebounds.
"I'm not going to say we're unstoppable, but I feel like having us in the paint, it's hard to stop us," Coates said. "We're going to continue to do what we do."
That's been plenty to stay atop the SEC, tied with No. 17 Texas A&M at 7-1. Ibiam says the forwards take pride in dominating down low.
"If I'm off, I always have my 'Big Girl' (Coates) in there and vice versa," Ibiam said. "We always have each other's back, so that's a good feeling."
The lone drama left at the end was whether the Gamecocks would reach the century mark for the first time since the end of the 2007-08 season. They had a final possession with 16 seconds left when Staley told her players to dribble out the clock.
"It was the unpopular right decision," Staley said with a smile.
The Gamecocks last scored 100 points in a win over North Carolina State, 102-74 to start the Women's NIT on March
Tiffany Mitchell had 15 points, point guard Kadijah Sessions 11 and Tiffany Davis 11 as South Carolina had six players with double-figure scoring.
The Gamecocks came into the week with their highest ranking in 12 years. They also rebounded strongly from their lone league loss at SEC co-leader Texas A&M on Jan. 16 by subduing Alabama (77-52) and outlasting then 16th-ranked Vanderbilt in Nashville, 61-57.
While Ole Miss has lost six of its past seven games, it used its size and speed to hang with South Carolina most of the opening half, overcoming a technical foul by Insell after he strongly complained to officials following a foul call on his team.
But after the Gamecocks opened a 21-12 lead on Tiffany Davis' 3-pointer, the Rebels responded with a 12-4 run the next five minutes to get within a point after Amber Singletary's foul shots.
The Mississippi push was led by McFarland, the SEC's fourth-leading scorer at 16.4 points a game, and Kenyotta Jenkins, a 5-foot-10 senior who used to her quick step to get around South Carolina's taller defenders. McFarland had six points and Jenkins eight in the run.
Then the Gamecocks reasserted their dominance underneath and finished the half on a 19-1 run the last seven minutes to take control.