Stifling Defense, Clutch Free Throws Deliver 63-61 Win Over LSU
Jan. 6, 2011
COLUMBIA, S.C. - South Carolina's Ieasia Walker hit two free throws in the final seconds to seal a come-from-behind 63-61 win over LSU in SEC women's basketball action Thursday night at Colonial Life Arena. The Gamecocks (9-6, 1-1 SEC) mounted a furious comeback from an early 18-point deficit, embodying the never-say-die attitude of head coach Dawn Staley in posting the program's first win over LSU (10-6, 0-2 SEC) since the 1998 SEC Tournament. For the first time this season, South Carolina won after trailing at the half, thanks in large part to 50.0 percent shooting from 3-point range in the second half, many of which came at crunch time.
After the Gamecocks rallied to take a 46-38 lead in the second half behind three 3-pointers, two from Markeshia Grant, and aggressive defense, the Lady Tigers answered with an 8-0 surge to tie the game 46-46 with just a tick under nine minutes to play. The teams traded baskets down the stretch with neither team finding a lead larger than two points over the next eight minutes.
With just over a minute to play, La'Keisha Sutton was fouled driving to the basket and hit both the resulting free throws to tie the game at 61-61. After both teams misfired on their next possessions, LSU had the ball with 22 seconds on the clock. Following a time out, Walker hawked Graham around the perimeter, forcing her to look for a teammate. Under duress, her pass to the elbow was intercepted by Ashley Bruner. The sophomore forward came out of the scramble firing a pass up the court to Walker, who streaked toward the basket and was fouled with just two seconds remaining. The sophomore guard calmly hit both to seal the victory.
Five players finished in double figures for the first time this season, and the game saw the lead change hands nine times with five ties over the 40 minutes of action. South Carolina shot a season-best 47.1 percent (8-of-17) from 3-point range and hit 13-of-17 (.765) from the free throw line in a game where every point counted.
South Carolina fell behind early as the shots would not fall during a 23-5 Lady Tiger run that spanned the first seven minutes of the game. After Walker drove the baseline for a bucket, the Gamecocks cranked up the defensive pressure, forcing turnovers on LSU's next three possessions. Unfortunately, the Gamecocks' shooting woes continued, and they could not get any closer than 27-10 with seven minutes left in the half.
Marah Strickland hit a 3-pointer from the left corner 6:40 before halftime, kicking off a 13-4 Gamecock surge that would close the period. Grant, a key catalyst in the defensive pressure, swiped a steal and hit a free throw. Bruner put back an offensive rebound and then hit a bucket on the left block after a steal by Walker to bring the Gamecocks inside double digits at 27-18. LSU hit a pair of free throws to stem the tide, but Grant hit a 3-pointer from the top of the circle and Bruner added another from the post just before the buzzer for a 29-23 LSU lead at halftime.
The lead hovered at six points for the first three minutes of the second half before the Gamecock defense again sparked a 13-0 surge that saw South Carolina hit three 3-pointers en route to their first lead of the game. Walker started the surge with a 3 from the left corner, and Grant followed with one at the top of the key at the end of the shot clock to put the Gamecocks in front 39-38 just five minutes into the half. After an LSU turnover, Sutton hit a long jumper from the right wing, and Grant turned her own defensive rebound into a 3-pointer from the right corner. Valerie Nainima's jumper from the right elbow put South Carolina up 46-38 with 12:20 left to play.
Grant led the Gamecocks with 12 points, including 3-of-4 shooting from 3-point range, to match her career high. Bruner, Sutton and Strickland each netted 11, while Walker's final two free throws got her into double digits with 10 points. Bruner led the way on the glass with six rebound, all on the offensive end, and Sutton handed out four assists.
South Carolina returns to Colonial Life Arena on Sunday to take on Florida at 3 p.m. General admission tickets are $7.