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Watkins, Fulwiley help No. 1 South Carolina beat Auburn, runs winning streak to 20 games

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AUBURN, Ala. (AP) — Ashlyn Watkins had 14 points and 15 rebounds, reserve MiLaysia Fulwiley scored 15 points and No. 1 South Carolina overcame a slow start to beat Auburn 76-54 on Thursday night.

In a matchup between the top offense and the top defense in the Southeastern Conference, the Gamecocks broke through in the second half, going on a 13-2 run late in the third quarter to put away the Tigers.

Kamilla Cardoso added 13 points and six rebounds for South Carolina (20-0, 8-0), which out-rebounded Auburn 48-35.

The Gamecocks scored 49 points in the second half, shooting 56.3% from the field and 50% from 3-point range.

”(Auburn) had a great game plan,” South Carolina head coach Dawn Staley said. “They made us play badly. It was their pressure defense and their ability to play their style.

“At halftime, you make a little bit of an adjustment, but as players, you know what you’re capable of doing.”

Watkins’ double-double came in her first start of the season for the Gamecocks. She replaced Chloe Kitts, who Staley said missed the game due to an illness.

“I wasn’t surprised,” Staley said of Watkins. “She’s shown us that she’s pretty talented. She’s an extraordinary rebounder, she put up some points for us, and she was an absolute monster on defense.”

Auburn’s Honesty Scott-Grayson matched her career high with 31 points, but no one else scored more than six points for the Tigers (14-7, 3-5).

”(South Carolina) is the No. 1 team in the country for a reason,” Scott-Grayson said. “They stuck to their game plan. ... But we went out there and fought hard. I’m proud of that.”

South Carolina has won its first 20 games in back-to-back seasons. The Gamecocks’ lone loss last season came in the Final Four to Iowa.

Auburn bottled up the nation’s lone undefeated team in the first half and trailed 27-22 at the break. It was the lowest first-half point total for South Carolina since a 65-58 win over North Carolina on Nov. 30.

But the Tigers didn’t have enough offensive firepower to stay with the Gamecocks after halftime and finished shooting 32.2% from the field for the game. Savannah Scott and Sydney Shaw were the only Tigers besides Scott-Grayson to hit multiple shots.

The teams combined to shoot 7 of 26 from 3-point range in a defensive battle that featured 32 turnovers.

“I was really proud of how we came out and set the tone, which we wanted to do,” Auburn head coach Johnnie Harris said. “We had some miscues and missed shots in the first half that we have been working on. But we got what we wanted... and we defended our tails off.”

BIG PICTURE

South Carolina: After a stretch of improved shooting, particularly from 3-point range, the Gamecocks’ offense struggled to replicate that success early against Auburn. But South Carolina remained unbeaten by controlling the paint and taking advantage of turnovers.

Auburn: Less than three weeks removed from their win over defending national champion LSU, the Tigers fared better than most teams that have gone up against South Carolina. Auburn has a good enough defense to hang with any opponent, but offensive improvement will likely be key any postseason run.

UP NEXT

South Carolina: Hosts Mississippi on Sunday.

Auburn: Visits Arkansas on Sunday.

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AP women’s college basketball: https://apnews.com/hub/ap-top-25-womens-college-basketball-poll and https://apnews.com/hub/womens-college-basketball