March 20, 2011
COLUMBIA, S.C. - South Carolina closed its season with a 69-57 loss to Charlotte in Women's NIT action Sunday afternoon at Colonial Life Arena. The Gamecocks' 18-15 overall record was the program's best since 2006-07 as South Carolina reached postseason play for the first time since Dawn Staley was named head coach. A difficult shooting day put pressure on the typically stingy Gamecock defense, and the home team could not sustain a rally that narrowed the gap to single digits in the final five minutes of play.
"I thought our team played great for 40 minutes," Staley said. "They never gave up, and they never had the look of defeat. They were always moving and into the game. Our offense just failed us today. We didn't hit enough shots, and we could not keep up with them in transition.
With all the things that happened to our program in the past three years, I thought our team played incredible [this season]. I thought they fought through a lot and let the process work. If you believe in the vision and everyone buys into it, you will find a way to be successful. That is what happened to our basketball team this year."
The Gamecocks played from behind nearly all afternoon but refused to go away, playing hard until the final buzzer. Charlotte opened the game with an 8-4 advantage, but South Carolina used three turnovers on the next five 49er possessions to mount an 8-2 run that put them on top 12-11 midway through the first half. The Gamecock guards mounted the rally, starting with a transition layup from La'Keisha Sutton, which was followed by an Ieasia Walker drive and a free throw from Markeshia Grant.
The 49ers turned the tables back on the Gamecocks, though, to go on a 9-3 run for a 20-15 advantage. Five turnovers during the spurt put the Gamecock defense on its heels, and the 49ers took advantage. A pair of 3s late in the half gave Charlotte a 32-24 lead heading into the locker room.
After seeing the deficit grow to as many as 19 points with under eight minutes to play, South Carolina mounted a furious rally doing what it did best all season - play lock-down defense and clean the boards.
A pair of transition layups from Shannon McCallum put the 49ers up 56-39 with 7:40 on the clock. The Gamecocks went inside on their next possession, and Ashley Bruner used her quickness to get across the basket on the baseline for a bucket. Walker stole the ensuing inbounds pass for a layup to cut the margin to 56-41. After securing the defensive rebound on Charlotte's next trip up the floor, Bruner added a pair of free throws. The Gamecock defense forced a desperation heave at the end of the shot on Charlotte's next possession and, on the other side a pair of offensive rebounds led to a baseline jumper from Valerie Nainima. A pair of free throws from Jewel May, who was fouled on a defensive rebound, brought the Gamecocks within double digits at 47-56 with 5:21 to play.
South Carolina struggled to hold the momentum, however, and the 49ers scored six unanswered points to re-establish a double-digit lead that they would not relinquish.
For the Gamecocks, Walker led the offense with 15 points, and Grant joined her in double-digits with 11. Charenee Stephens missed her second-straight double-double by a basket as she pulled in a game-high 11 rebounds to go with her eight points. Sutton handed out four of the Gamecocks' eight assists in the game.
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