Dec. 5, 2003
ALBUQUERQUE, NM – Freshman Iva Sliskovic’s layin with less than two seconds left gave the South Carolina Gamecocks an 81-79 come-from-behind victory over the Southern Utah Thunderbirds in the Southwest Airlines Lobo Shootout. The Gamecocks will face tournament host New Mexico Saturday in the 10:00 p.m. ET tournament final. The Lobos defeated Tennessee State in the Friday nightcap.
Playing the game at 5,000+ feet above sea level, the Albuquerque altitude seemed to take a toll on the South Carolina team. After falling behind early in the contest, the Gamecocks took their first lead of the second half with Sarah Burgess’ three-point basket, 56-54. USC pushed its advantage to four points with the post play of Iva Sliskovic and Olga Gritsaeva as the Gamecocks went up, 69-65, with less than four minutes left to play. The Thunderbirds took the lead back on a 6-0 run, 71-69, before seniors Kelly Morrone and Cristina Ciocan combined to score the next seven Gamecocks points and push USC out to a 76-73 lead with 1:25 left in the game.
Southern Utah’s Casey Cooke connected on a three from the top of the key to tie the contest at 76-all. South Carolina took the ball with less than a minute to play and passed the ball to freshman Lauren Simms who buried a three-point shot from the left baseline to give South Carolina a 79-76 lead with 40 seconds to play. After a Thunderbird timeout, Kasey Cooke tied the game at 79 with a quick three-pointer from the corner.
Tied at 79 with 22 seconds left, South Carolina took a time-out to get organized for the final possession of the game. USC inbounded the ball and got the ball into senior Cristina Ciocan’s hands for the final half minute. With the defense keying on Ciocan and Morrone, Ciocan found Iva Sliskovic open under the basket and the 6-5 forward laid the ball softly off the glass for the winning basket.
South Carolina had five players score in double figures on the night as Sliskovic paced all players with 18 points and 12 rebounds. Cristina Ciocan recorded her fifth double-double in five games with 15 points and 13 assists. Lauren Simms and Sarah Burgess each contributed 14 points while Olga Gritsaeva chipped in 10 with eight boards.
“I don’t want to make excuses for the team,” said USC head coach Susan Walvius, “but the altitude here was a factor, an unexpected factor. We fatigued easily tonight and made mental errors but we came back to win. Our freshmen really came through tonight for us when we needed them. Lauren Simms did a great job in stepping up and hitting the three-pointer to give us the lead at the end of the game and Iva Sliskovic provided the winning basket and 12 rebounds during the game.
“During the timeout, we called a double high-ball screen, which was actually one of Southern Utah’s plays. We tried to clear out the lane so Cristina Ciocan could go to the rim or pass off. We rolled Iva low and Southern Utah defended Ciocan which left Iva alone. She picked up the ball and laid in the basket.”
South Carolina takes its five-game winning streak up against New Mexico Lobos Saturday night in the first meeting between the two schools. New Mexico, 4-1, on the season, advanced to the Sweet Sixteen in last season’s NCAA Tournament. Not only do the Lobos have the altitude advantage but they will also play the Gamecocks on their home court, The Pit, where they average around 10,000 fans per game. South Carolina fans can follow all the action on WISW Radio (1320 am) with Andy Demetra and Robin Muller calling the action.