Feb. 16, 2012
COLUMBIA, S.C. - A last second attempt fell inches short as No. 25 South Carolina dropped a hard-fought 61-59 decision to No. 18/15 Georgia Thursday night at Colonial Life Arena. The Gamecocks (19-7, 8-5 SEC) led by two at the half, but the Lady Bulldogs (20-6, 9-4 SEC) led by as many as eight midway through the second half. Georgia stayed on top by five as late as 1:25 left to play before the Gamecocks' trio of starting guards leveld the game at 59-59 with 12 seconds to play.
South Carolina started the half off strong against Georgia with three consecutive 3-pointers, two from senior Markeshia Grant and one from senior La'Keisha Sutton. The Bulldogs kept it close with two lead changes during the first half, mostly by going inside where they had a height advantage on the Gamecocks. The Gamecocks went through a scoring drought, but Sutton was able to keep pace with the lady Bulldog offense scoring the Gamecocks' last 10 points to take her team into the locker room up 31-29.
The Gamecocks' shooting cooled off in the second half, and Georgia continued to go inside for high-percentage shots. The change in tone of the game allowed the Lady Bulldogs to put together a 15-6 run that twice included three unanswered scores. Freshman Aleighsa Welch looked to have ended the surge with a free throw and a put-back on the next opportunity to bring the Gamecocks within four at 44-40 with 10:44 to play. Georgia answered with another set of back-to-back scores to open up its largest lead of the night, 48-40 with 9:25 to play.
After the forwards had scored seven of the team's first nine points of the half, the Gamecock guards went back to work. Ieasia Walker hit a jumper from the right elbow at the end of the shot clock, and Tina Roy drained a 3 from the right corner to quickly get back within three at 48-45 with 8:06 on the clock. Walker continued to surge, scoring the Gamecocks' next five points, but Georgia continued to work inside to maintain its edge.
Senior Charenee Stephens was a huge factor on the glass for the Gamecocks throughout the night, and her effort paid off late as she kept things close with a free throw and a move on the right block. Georgia's lead went back to five, though, on a traditional three-point play from Meredith Mitchell with 1:25 to go.
Grant, who had been quiet offensively in the second half, lined up a 3 from the left side and was fouled on the play. Hitting two of the resulting three free throws, she had her team within three once again with 1:17 to go. From there, the fouls began piling up on both sides, and the rest of the night's points would come at the free throw line. Georgia's Khaalidah Miller hit one of her two with 1:07 to play, which Sutton answered with a pair at just under a minute to go. On Georgia's next possessions, the aggressive defense of Sancheon White forced Jasmine James to step out of bounds, giving the Gamecocks the ball down two with 37 seconds to go.
Walker maintained her aggression, driving hard to the bucket and drawing a foul with 12 seconds to go. The junior sank both her shots, her eighth and ninth points of the game, which yielded the game's fifth tie at 59-59. Georgia called its final timeout to set up a play, which the Gamecocks defended well until Anne Marie Armstrong pulled up at the left elbow and drew a foul with five seconds on the clock. The Lady Bulldogs' junior calmly sank both her attempts.
After a pair of timeouts, Sutton got the ball in bounds to Walker, who drove up the floor and put up a last second 3-pointer that bounced just off the rim after the buzzer.
While Georgia won the offensive battle in the paint, out-scoring the Gamecocks 38-20, South Carolina edged out the Lady Bulldogs on the boards 34-32, including 14 on the offensive end. Stephens led the way with a season-high 11. Sutton netted 20 points, while Grant finished with 11. Walker ended her effort with nine points to go with six rebounds and five assists.
South Carolina plays its next two games on the road before returning to Colonial Life Arena for the regular-season finale on Sun., Feb. 26, against Arkansas.
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