COLUMBIA, S.C. -- Chiney Ogwumike has been in plenty of close games for Stanford. She's also got confidence that the top-ranked Cardinal know exactly what to do when pressed to the limit as they were at South Carolina on Wednesday night.
Ogwumike had 21 points and 15 rebounds, Mikaela Ruef hit a tiebreaking layup with 53 seconds left and Toni Kokenis hit six foul shots down the stretch as No. 1 Stanford beat the 21st-ranked Gamecocks 53-49 to match the best start in school history at 10-0.
"We had a target on our back tonight and that's one of the things we have to expect when we come to games like this," Ogwumike said.
South Carolina (10-1) gave Stanford all it could handle at the raucous Colonial Life Arena, where more than 8,000 fans screamed with each possession. The arena erupted when Sancheon White's jumper gave South Carolina its final lead 44-42 with 2:32 remaining.
Ogwumike answered with a go-ahead three-point play and the Gamecocks tied it up on Aleighsa Welch's foul shot. That's when Ruef drove left and threw up a shot that barely scraped over the rim and fell in to put Stanford ahead to stay.
The Gamecocks pulled to 51-49 on Ieasia Walker's 3-pointer with 3 seconds left, but Kokenis added two final foul shots to ice things.
"I'm really proud of our team, how Toni and Chiney really stayed with things," Stanford coach Tara VanDerveer said. "You're in a very hostile environment, great crowd, great atmosphere."
Not that it was pretty.
Stanford had a season-high 18 turnovers, shot 40 percent and were held 25 points below their season average the first nine games. Still, it's a win and the third time in program history -- all under VanDerveer -- it's started 10-0. The last time came in the 1991-92 season.
Ogwumike had her eighth game with double figure points and rebounds this season. But she said it was the little things like Ruef's driving basket -- her only points of the second half -- and Kokenis' perfect foul shooting that won the game.
"Coach says every possession counts and it counted tonight," Ogwumike said.
Kokenis had 15 points for Stanford, including six foul shots in the final minute to keep control. Amber Orragne scored 11 points and Joslyn Tinkle had seven blocks.
Welch had 17 points to lead the Gamecocks, who fell to 0-9 all-time against No. 1 opponents. Walker had 15 points. South Carolina's other three starters of Ashley Bruner, White and Tiffany Mitchell were a combined 4-of-31 shooting for 12 points.
South Carolina coach Dawn Staley said she knew the game would come down to making shots.
"And we just fell short," she said. "We outshot them, we got more opportunities at the basket. We just couldn't put it in."
It was a matchup of coaching friends VanDerveer and Staley, who credits Stanford's coach with teaching her to be a student of the game. That was back in 1996 when VanDerveer led the U.S. team and star point guard Staley to Olympic gold at the Atlanta Games. The admiration hasn't diminished with time.
"You don't have enough paper and pens to write the good things I could say about her," VanDerveer said.
VanDerveer's gotten the better of things since Staley arrived at South Carolina five seasons ago, winning all three previous games including a 76-60 decision in the NCAA tournament's round of 16 last March.
Stanford started its final pre-Pac 12 Conference stretch with a cross-country trek to take on Southeastern Conference opponents in South Carolina and No. 10 Tennessee in Knoxville on Saturday.
After that is the Cardinal's showdown with No. 2 Connecticut on Dec. 29 before opening league play.
Stanford came out like a team just in from a red-eye flight.
It had scoring droughts of four and five minutes in the opening half and committed 11 turnovers, nearly matching their 11.9 average per game this season in the first 20 minutes.
But Stanford kept control because of its height -- it featured seven players 6-foot-2 or taller to just two for South Carolina -- under the boards. The Cardinal outrebounded South Carolina 26-14 and put up seven blocks, six by Tinkle, in the opening half.
The Gamecocks shot 8 of 33 (24.2 percent) from the field, struggling to get clean looks against among Stanford's sea of long, waving defensive arms.
Ogwumike had a bucket and two foul shots and Orrange a driving layup just before the buzzer to take a 24-19 halftime lead. Still, it was the team's lowest scoring half of the season.