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South Carolina survives upset bid

The term "style points" is common in the world of college football. Fortunately for South Carolina, style points don't count for much in college basketball.

Freshman A'ja Wilson's putback with three seconds left gave the Gamecocks a 51-50 win at Duke on Sunday.

A victory over a top-10 team on the road? Yes. Aesthetically pleasing? Not in the least.

This was the Gamecocks' showcase game, their first true road test as the No. 1 team in the country -- and at Cameron Indoor Stadium, no less, against the ninth-ranked Blue Devils. The contest also came on the heels of Saturday's Connecticut-Notre Dame matchup, two teams that many still believe are the nation's two best, putting an even greater comparative spotlight on South Carolina's performance.

At the final whistle Sunday, South Carolina emerged proving really just one thing: It knows how to win.

Offensively, it wasn't a good performance. South Carolina entered the game eighth in the country in field goal percentage (.492) but made just 20 of 53 shots in Durham. Sharing the ball has been a forte in all seven of the Gamecocks' previous wins this season, but they totaled merely eight assists Sunday. That accompanied eight turnovers. Duke even outrebounded South Carolina 44 to 36, and Dawn Staley's bunch missed half of its 16 free throw attempts.

The Gamecocks were not at all smooth, did not look like the nation's top-ranked team and won't be showing this tape to any relatives, but they were one thing: clutch.

Duke had its own trouble on offense before a pair of Rebecca Greenwell free throws gave the Blue Devils a 50-46 lead with 42 seconds to go. But South Carolina made the next three plays, and they were the three biggest plays of the game:

1. Reigning SEC Player of the Year Tiffany Mitchell, bumped and bruised into a rough afternoon (2-of-10 shooting), pump-faked, pulled up and hit a 3-pointer -- one of just four for South Carolina all day -- with 19 seconds left.

2. Staley slapped on the full-court press, and, rather than fouling immediately senior Olivia Gaines went for the steal and ripped away the ball cleanly from Greenwell, giving South Carolina a final chance.

3. Mitchell missed on her drive, but Wilson, who played with the kind of inconsistency becoming of a freshman, secured the offensive rebound and muscled up a left-handed 2-footer for the 51-50 win.

Three plays erased a day of frustration and gave South Carolina the kind of road win on which résumés for No. 1 seeds are built.

Duke is a young team going through something that Duke teams just aren't used to -- a losing streak. The Blue Devils, the victim of some bad luck and a difficult schedule, have dropped three straight games for the first time since the 2007-08 season.

The first two in the stretch (losses at Texas A&M and Nebraska) were without All-American center Elizabeth Williams. Sunday's game was largely played without her, too. Foul trouble limited Williams to 25 minutes; she didn't score until 4:23 remained in the second half and finished with just five points. Her defense (five blocks) was significant, however, especially in the first half, when Duke took a 21-17 lead into the break despite missing 20 of 21 shots during a nine-minute stretch.

Duke can take some solace in the fact that it committed 22 turnovers, shot 31.7 percent, had just one player in double-figures (Greenwell with 12) and still took the No. 1-ranked team to the buzzer.

Those top-ranked Gamecocks know they still have a long way to go. The last two games South Carolina has played against quality opponents -- including Syracuse in the Bahamas -- it has needed late heroics to stay unbeaten. The Gamecocks really don't have another true test until a Jan. 11 meeting with Kentucky.

By then, Staley will hope her team is doing almost everything better. To hold off a deep SEC, it will have to.

On Sunday at Duke, the Gamecocks did almost nothing well, except win. Ultimately, that's all that matters.