March 19, 2012
WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. - No. 25 South Carolina scrapped its way to the NCAA Tournament Sweet 16 with a 72-61 win at No. 13/15 Purdue Monday night. It is the Gamecocks' third Sweet 16 appearance with the last coming in 2002, when they reached the Elite Eight. It is head coach Dawn Staley's first appearance in the regional semifinals. While shooting a high percentage themselves, it was the Gamecock defense that shut down the Boilermaker offense with steals early and forcing tough shots late. Senior Markeshia Grant led the offense with 21 points, her sixth 20-point outing of the season.
The Gamecock defense came out early as did La'Keisha Sutton's offense. The senior had the team's first six points and the Gamecocks turned 13 first-half turnovers by Purdue into 15 points. The game was back and forth out of the gate with four ties and two lead changes in the first eight minutes. But, South Carolina would change that in the back half of the period.
Trailing 11-8 with 13:22 left in the half, the Gamecocks put together an 11-2 run to take control. Markeshia Grant got things going with a pull-up jumper at the free throw line followed by a layup off a steal to put South Carolina on top 12-11. After a Purdue missed shot, Ieasia Walker drove the lane her first bucket of the night. Alex Guyton answered with a turnaround jumper for Purdue, but the Gamecocks found Tina Roy on the next possession, and the freshman drilled a 3 from the left wing. Sutton capped the run by finishing a drive on a clear-out for a 19-13 South Carolina advantage with 8:16 left to go before halftime.
Purdue closed within a point at 27-26 behind back-to-back 3s from Kk Houser with 3:10 left in the half, but it was the last points the Boilermakers would score in the period. Charenee Stephens putback a missed shot, and Walker finished off the half with four points. The junior guard hit one of two free throws then buried a 3-pointer at the end of the shot clock for a 33-26 South Carolina lead at the break.
The second half opened beyond the 3-point line. Purdue struck first with another triple from Houser, but Grant answered with back-to-back 3s, which had Purdue calling timeout just 2:30 into the half. The Gamecocks' lead hovered around double digits until a flurry of physical fouls. Double technical and an intentional foul on Purdue had tempers running high, but South Carolina kept stretching its lead. Walker's 3-pointer from the right sideline made it a 47-33 game, the Gamecocks' largest lead of the game, with 13:24 to go.
The Boilermakers narrowed the gap to seven at 49-42 with 10:31 to play, but the Gamecocks answered every run. Walker added a quick transition layup, and Bruner put back her own miss to stretch it back to 11 points just 30 seconds later. Purdue hit back-to-back baskets to get within seven again, and again Bruner responded, putting two moves on her defender to get a bucket form the right block. After a Purdue miss, Grant added a pull-up jumper from the right elbow to again lead by 11 with 7:46 to go.
Offensive rebounds helped Purdue get the margin inside double digits at 59-50 with 5:21 to go, but Bruner and Welch would not give an inch inside. Bruner hit a free throw, and Welch added the next four points. From there, the Gamecocks never looked back.
South Carolina held Purdue to just 22 field goals overall and 31.6 percent shooting in the second half a the defensive pressure wore down the Boilermakers.
Three other Gamecocks netted double figures, led by Walker's 17 points to go with her four assists. Sutton and Bruner added 10 points each. Welch finished with eight rebounding, including four offensive to lead the Gamecocks on the glass.
South Carolina will face #2/2 Stanford in Fresno, Calif., on Sat., March 24. Time and television details will be announced soon.
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