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Nov. 22, 2006

Columbia, S.C. – Maybe the Gamecocks and the Lady Tigers should play the same week of the football game every year. Kickoff in Death Valley isn’t until Saturday at noon, but Carolina made an early claim for bragging rights on Monday night with a 32-point win at the Colonial Center. It tied the third most lopsided game in the entire series. That followed up last season’s 31-point romp at Littlejohn Coliseum.

The first 300 fans in attendance Monday were given free “Beat Clemson” t-shirts. It didn’t take long for the Gamecocks to turn those words into reality. They reeled off 18 straight points early in the first half, erasing an early six-point deficit. Carolina prides itself on defense, and that provided the spark. Turnovers lead to easy baskets. Five blocked shots also energized the crowd, including two emphatic rejections by sophomore forward Demetress Adams.

There was more of the same in the second half. The Lady Tigers kept missing shots and turning the ball over, and the Gamecocks kept on scoring, with a 17-2 run right out of the gate. And the fans kept on cheering. They stayed right on top of the game statistics, letting the officials know when two Clemson players fouled out. One of them was leading scorer Tasha Taylor, who played just seven minutes, scoring only five points. The fans even jingled their keys in unison in the final minutes, letting the Lady Tigers know it was time to start the bus for the long trip home. The way night the ended, Clemson probably should have boarded at halftime.

The fans left the Colonial Center in high spirits (with or without a free t-shirt). But nobody is more ecstatic than the Carolina seniors, who will finish with two straight wins over their intra-state rivals. The smiles on their faces after the game told the whole story, even if their words didn’t. Of course, one look at the Clemson bench would lead you to the same conclusion.

Head Coach Susan Walvius called this game a season in itself. It certainly makes you forget the bigger picture for a night. But, the Gamecocks improved to 3-1 now with three dominating wins at the Colonial Center. That ball-hawking defense has forced more than 20 turnovers in each of the four games. It will make them awfully tough to beat in their Thanksgiving Classic starting on Friday.

So, the Thanksgiving week kicked off with a delicious appetizer in Columbia. Gamecock fans are hoping the dessert in Death Valley is just as sweet on Saturday. Now that sounds like a menu we would all enjoy year in and year out.