March 3, 2005
GREENVILLE, S.C. - - In a thriller that went down to the wire, the 12th-seeded South Carolina women's basketball team fell to fifth-seeded Ole Miss, 53-50, in the opening round of the Southeastern Conference Tournament Thursday night at the Bi-Lo Center in Greenville, S.C.
With the win, Ole Miss (19-9) advances to the second round to face No. 3-seed Vanderbilt on Friday. The Gamecocks ended their season at 8-21. Stacy Booker led South Carolina with 12 points and Iva Sliskovic pulled down a team-best 10 rebounds. Armintie Price paced Ole Miss with 19 points and 12 rebounds.
Thursday's match-up marked the second meeting in as many games between South Carolina and Ole Miss. The two teams faced off in Oxford, Miss., in the regular season finale on Sunday, Feb. 27, with the Rebels hanging on for a 57-51 victory.
Playing without starting point guard Lea Fabbri and leading scorer Lauren Simms, USC looked to dictate the tempo and turn the game into a defensive battle. Ole Miss came into the contest ranked in the top 20 nationally in scoring offense, while Carolina ranked in the top 50 nationally in scoring defense.
After Ole Miss built its lead to 11 points (34-23) four minutes into the second half, the Gamecocks worked to close the gap. Melanie Johnson drained a pair of free throws at the 8:02 mark to knot the game at 40 apiece. Ilona Burgrova nailed two more to give the Gamecocks a 42-40 lead.
South Carolina used the free throw line to its advantage in the second half. The Gamecocks were in the one-and-one with 12 minutes remaining in the game and moved into the double-bonus with eight minutes to play. The Gamecocks were 10-of-12 from the charity stripe in the game.
From there, it was seesaw battle, and like Sunday's contest in Oxford, this one went down to the wire.
A deep three-pointer by Gamecock sophomore Angela Hunter put USC on top 50-49 with 2:46 to go. With 46 seconds to play, first-team All-SEC selection Armintie Price scored on a putback to regain the lead for the Rebels. After failing to score on its next possession, USC was forced to foul and put Price on the foul line. She missed both tries, but Ole Miss grabbed the rebound and called timeout with 16.8 seconds to play. The Gamecocks nearly came up with the steal, but had to foul Price again. She missed the first, but knocked down the second try to make it 52-50.
On the next trip down court, Booker missed a driving jumper, but Hunter corralled the rebound and went back up for a shot, attempting to draw the foul. No foul was called and USC had to foul again. Lady Rebel Ellen Buchanan hit one of two to make it, 53-50. With 2.2 seconds left, Carolina failed to get a shot off before the final horn sounded.
South Carolina struggled to take care of the basketball in the opening 20 minutes, committing 14 turnovers. Neither team shot better than 30 percent from the field with Ole Miss shooting 29.4 percent (10-of-34) and Carolina hitting 28.6 percent (8-of-28). The Rebels went into the halftime locker room on top, 24-19.
Carolina held Price, the Lady Rebels' leading scorer, to just five points, but Amber Watts got loose for 11 points to pace the team in the first half. Booker led the Gamecocks with seven points and junior Olga Gritsaeva chipped in with six.
Johnson moved into sole possession of second place on South Carolina's single-season blocks list. Johnson blocked two shots to bring her season total to 54.
Simms missed her third straight game after suffering a torn ACL in USC's win over Alabama on Feb. 20. Fabbri was home in Croatia to be with her family after the passing of her father.
Every player on South Carolina's 2004-05 roster has eligibility remaining, and the Gamecocks will add Palmetto State stars Brionna Dickerson (Columbia, S.C./Heathwood Hall) and Demetress Adams (Bishopville, S.C./Lee Central) next season.
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