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Oct. 30, 2008

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COLUMBIA, S.C. – South Carolina dominated the first 79 minutes of action before Florida’s Ameera Abdullah scored in the 80th minute to give the seventh-ranked Gators a 1-0 win at Stone Stadium, ending a 13-game home unbeaten streak for the Gamecocks. Playing in front of a national television audience as the NSCAA Game of the Week, Abdullah knocked in her own rebound as the Gators (16-2-1) finish 11-0-0 in SEC play, marking the first 11-win conference season in SEC history.

Despite controlling the run of play and holding a 10-5 shot advantage, the Gamecocks fall to 11-5-4 on the year and 5-4-2 in SEC play. The loss is just Carolina’s second at home since the start of the 2006 season, a span of 30 games at “The Graveyard”. Carolina holds a 23-2-5 record at home during the span.

“They showed why they’re one of the top teams in the country,” South Carolina head coach Shelley Smith said. “They found a way to win, and they’ve done it all season. You have to give a lot of credit to a team that found a way to win the SEC undefeated and on the road. It’s hard to beat our team on this field, and I thought today we showed why. It took a team like Florida to do it.”

In front of 944 fans, the ninth largest crowd to witness a women’s soccer match at Stone Stadium, Carolina began with many chances against the second top 10 team they faced this season. Freshman Kayla Grimsley brought the crowd to its feet in the seventh minute after a misplay by Florida’s Ashlee Elliott gave her the ball inside the 18′, but the Gators came together to prevent a shot from coming off. Abdullah took Florida’s first shot in the 17th minute with a strike that sent Gamecock keeper Mollie Patton into the air for a diving save to end Florida’s best threat in the half.

The Gamecocks had their best chance at the early goal in the 43rd when Samantha Diaz-Matosas took a free kick that landed in the box as Natalie Aaron took a shot past the keeper, but a defender made it to the goal line for the clearance just in time for the team save. South Carolina entered the half with a 3-2 shot advantage, but Florida held a 3-0 advantage in corner kicks.

South Carolina’s best look in the second came in the 53rd as Diaz-Matosas played a ball up to Brooke Jacobs. Running down the right flank, Jacobs sent a cross in front of the net that found Grimsley’s foot for a shot that just missed the right post. Aaron gave Carolina another look in the 60th with a rocket aimed at the top of the net, but Florida keeper Meghan Berlingo was able to get her fingertips on it to prevent the goal.

Dominated by Carolina’s backline throughout the match, the Gators finally found their opening in the 80th minute when Abdullah took a cross in front of the goal and hit a shot that was saved by Patton. However, the rebound ricocheted back to Abdullah who struck it to the top of the net at 79:21 for the game-winning goal. It was the seventh of the year for the senior.

Carolina thought they had a chance when Lindsay Small was tripped on the attack a yard outside the 18′ in the 84th, but no whistle was called as Florida escaped. The Gamecocks earned two corner kick opportunities in the final 60 seconds but couldn’t convert either as the Gators held on for the victory.

“It still hurts,” Smith said. “It’s a loss. We did turn it around as a positive in that I don’t think any team has done that to Florida this year where we really outplayed them. It shows us that we can play with anyone. Obviously they are the best team in the conference this year and when you play like that against the best team you can go far in the SEC. I’m very proud of our team’s effort. I think we outplayed them many times in the game. We had good looks and good chances. A big credit goes to the whole team effort tonight.”

South Carolina is next in action next Wednesday in first round action at the SEC Tournament in Orange Beach, Ala. The Gamecocks will finish as either the fifth or sixth seed, depending on the outcome of Friday’s Tennessee-Georgia match. South Carolina is currently fifth in the SEC standings with 17 points, and the Vols are sixth with 16 points. The Gamecocks hold a tiebreaker with Tennessee due to a 2-1 victory earlier in the season.

“All season, thinking back to the couple of times we’ve given up games, we deserve a better record,” Smith said. “We’ve done well, but the games we’ve lost we learned a lot from. That’s what we’ve taken from every match. When it gets hard they come back and fight even harder. I’m definitely happy with the performance and looking forward to SEC play next week.”