Feb. 12, 2012
COLUMBIA, S.C. - No. 24/24 South Carolina posted its eighth SEC win of the season after a narrowly escaping Florida 62-58 at home. The Gators rallied late, but the Gamecocks (19-6, 8-4 SEC) cranked up the defensive pressure and hit clutch shots at the end to seal the victory. Senior guard Markeshia Grant finished with 20 points behind another hot-shooting night from beyond the 3-point arc. Fellow senior La'Keisha Sutton delivered the final three points of the game to seal the win, and Charenee Stephens' defensive effort included a season-high three steals.
"At this point, I think [the seniors] have all been there before," South Carolina head coach Dawn Staley said about the big games by three of her seniors. "This is our fourth year doing it. For them, I think they have a sense of urgency about them. Whether we execute positively or not, I know they want it. I think the effort is there. We got lucky on some of the plays. At the same time, you've got to get lucky in this league to be able to win sometimes."
South Carolina led Florida 43-33 at the half behind Grant's 16 point, including 4-of-4 shooting from the 3-point line. After the Gamecocks took a lead 7-5 early in the period, they kept the Gators at bay. The teams swapped points through out the first half with the Gamecocks holding the lead throughout. The Gamecocks held Florida to just three offensive rebounds in the half and did not allow them to capitalize on any of them.
South Carolina took its lead from two points to double digits after the first media timeout. Sancheon White, Tina Roy, Ashley Bruner and Grant all pitched in with baskets, putting the team up 26-16 at the 9:21 mark. In the last four minutes of the half, when the Gators had narrowed the gap to six, Roy took charge with a pair of 3s, one on an assist from Stephens and the other off a Stephens offensive rebound to give the Gamecocks their largest lead of the game at 12 points.
Coming out of the locker room, Florida began to wrest control of the game, burning 10-point deficit into a tie game at 54-54 with just under seven minutes left to play. Early in the half South Carolina had a hard time getting its shots to fall, going 7-of-25 from the floor. Meanwhile, the Gators were doing a better job of keeping the shorter Gamecocks off the glass.
Grant and Sutton steadied the Gamecocks after Dean Allen's mid-range jumper knotted the game. A battle for an offensive rebound set up Grant's 3 on the baseline out-of-bounds play. After Ieasia Walker swiped a steal on the other end, Sutton sank the free throws resulting from being fouled on her transition layup attempt. A missed 3 from Jordan Jones fell into Jennifer George's hands, and the junior hit a pair of free throws to bring the Gators back within three at 59-56 with 4:20 on the clock.
South Carolina forced three straight turnovers, but could not capitalize on them, and Lanita Bartley's layup off a steal made it a one-point game with 2:04 to play. Both teams misfired on their next possessions, leaving the ball to the Gamecocks with just over a minute left. The Gamecocks cleared out for Sutton, who drove to the basket and laid the ball in with 32 seconds left on the clock, staking the Gamecocks to a three-point lead.
Walker forced a travel in the Gators' backcourt, and Florida waited for more than half of the shot clock before fouling Sutton with 18 seconds to go. The senior missed the front end of her one-and-one opportunity, but Walker fought for the rebound, which went out of bounds off Florida. A turnover allowed Florida a final chance at the victory, but they misfired on a pair of shots, the second of which was corralled by Aleighsa Welch with six seconds to play. Florida was forced to send Sutton to the line, and this time the senior delivered, just as she did in the win at Florida, making it a two-possession game with just one second left.
Roy and Walker joined Grant in double figures with 11 and 10 points, respectively, while Walker also handed out five assists on the night. Behind 5-of-6 shooting from long range, Grant's 20-point effort was her fifth of the season, during which the Gamecocks are undefeated. Stevens and Welch, who drew the first start of her career led the way on the glass with seven boards each.
South Carolina will be at home at the Colonial Life Arena again this Thursday, Feb. 16 to face No. 21/20 Georgia.
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