Gamecocks beat No. 24/21 Vanderbilt 65-55
Jan. 5, 2012
COLUMBIA, S.C. - A smothering defense and aggressive offense propelled South Carolina to a 65-55 win over No. 24/21 Vanderbilt in SEC women's basketball play on Thursday night at Colonial Life Arena. The Gamecocks (13-2, 2-0 SEC) used two scoring runs in the first half to build a 10-point lead that the Commodores (12-2-, 0-1 SEC) could not overcome. The win is the seventh-straight victory for South Carolina, the longest since the 2005-06 season, and is the best start in SEC play since the 2001-02 team started 4-0 in conference play.
Three Gamecocks tallied double figures in the victory. Freshman forward Aleighsa Welch led the Gamecocks with a career-high 19 points off the bench. Senior forward Charenee Stephens scored 11, and senior guard La'Keisha Sutton added 10 points. Stephens also corralled a team-high eight boards with Welch adding seven. Six of Welch's rebounds were on the offensive end of the court, leading to multiple second-chance scoring opportunities. Junior guard Sancheon White earned her first start as a Gamecock and responded with eight points.
"Our players, they were just committed to the game plan," South Carolina head coach Dawn Staley said. "It's not hard when you are committed to it. You would rather take inside shots or shots within the arc. I thought La'Keisha [Sutton] did a tremendous job on their shooter, their leading scorer. I thought it was a well-executed game plan. Our players really focused in and got the win."
After trading baskets during the first four minutes, South Carolina's defense clamped down. The increased defensive activity forced five steals, two of which came from Ebony Wilson, which created transition opportunities to ignite a 12-0 run that gave the Gamecocks an 18-10 lead midway through the first half. Early in the spurt, Welch did her damage on offensive rebounds for the first four points, and Ieasia Walker hit a layup off a steal. Welch added the next four points of the run on free throws and a transition bucket, and Ashley Bruner capped the surge with a pair of free throws.
Vanderbilt stormed back to tie the game at 25, but the Gamecocks ended the half on a 10-0 run. Again, Welch got things going with a quick bucket from the left block. From there, the Gamecock guards took over with Sutton hitting a free throw, Markeshia Grant driving the lane for a layup and Walker doing the same on the next possession. The final spurt sent South Carolina to the locker room with a 35-25 advantage.
The Commodores went on a 7-1 run early in the half, but could never cut the Gamecocks' lead to less than six points. The Gamecocks' stellar 19-for-24 performance at the free throw line, including a perfect 8-for-8 in the second half, held off the Vanderbilt advances. South Carolina was able to hold on for the 65-55 victory.
Vanderbilt was lead by junior forward Tiffany Clarke who scored 13 points and pulled down seven rebounds. Redshirt sophomore Stephanie Holzer added 10 points and five rebounds despite missing a large chunk of the second half due to foul trouble.
South Carolina will continue SEC play on Sunday, Jan. 8, when they visit Florida with tipoff scheduled for 2 p.m.