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Jan. 29, 2009

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COLUMBIA, S.C. – South Carolina women’s basketball dropped a 63-56 decision to LSU at Colonial Life Arena tonight after a second-half rally that saw the deficit close to five points in the final three minutes. The Gamecocks (9-11, 1-6 SEC) had three players in double-figure points, including freshman Lakeisha Sutton’s 19, and out-scored the Lady Tigers (11-7, 4-2 SEC) by two in the second half, but could not get over the hump in the final minutes.

Offense was at a premium early for South Carolina, and the Gamecocks did not reach double figures until Miranda Tate’s 3-pointer with 4:36 left in the first half. The LSU lead was as large as 15 points with 3:36 left in the half before Carolina went on an 8-0 run to close within seven. Sutton kicked off the surged with a driving layup and kept things going with a 3-pointer from the top of the key after Courtney Newton buried a pair of layups. Charenee Stephens hit 1-of-2 free throws to get the Gamecocks within 22-29 with just over a minute left in the half.

Coming out of the locker room trailing by nine, the Gamecocks again stumbled offensively and allowed the Lady Tigers to stretch their lead to 15 points at 43-28 on a Destini Hughes reverse layup with 15:39 left to play. The Gamecocks cut it back to 10 points in a 15-second span as Newton drained a 3-pointer from the left wing and Lauren Falohun stole the Lady Tigers’ in-bounds pass and hit a layup moments later. LSU answered with another Hughes layup, but Sutton brought the deficit inside double digits at 36-45 with a traditional three-point play with just under 14 minutes left on the clock.

Both teams fell into an offensive funk over the next two scoreless minutes, and the Lady Tigers broke the skid first, hitting a pair of free throws. Taylor Turnbow netted LSU’s next four points on a move on pair of moves the right block to push the lead back to 14 points at 53-39 with 9:40 on the clock.

The Gamecocks would not go away, however, and C.J. Pace sparked a 10-2 run with a 3-pointer from the left baseline. Sutton kept things going with a layup off Falohun’s steal and then another driving bucket to tighten the gap to 53-46. LSU leading scorer Allison Hightower hit a short jumper to stave off the comeback only to see Sutton and Pace combine for the next three points, pulling Carolina within six at 49-55 with 4:49 left to play.

Turnbow stuck back Hightower’s miss on the next trip down the floor, which Pace answered with another 3-pointer from the left wing, bringing the lead down to 57-52 at the 3:55 mark. The teams traded baskets on their next possessions to keep the margin at five points with 2:47 left to play. Sutton picked Latear Eason’s pocket on LSU’s next trip down the floor but could not sink the jumper under pressure as the Lady Tiger defense was quick to recover. LaSondra Barrett hit a baseline jumper on the other end to push the lead back to seven with 2:11 on the clock. The Gamecocks continued to pressure the LSU defense, but could not get finish off the comeback.

Sutton tied Barrett for game-high honors with 19 points apiece, while Pace added 11 and Stephens netted 10 for the Gamecocks. Stephens was the game’s high rebounder with nine, narrowly missing her second career double-double, and Pace grabbed seven rebounds. South Carolina shot 40.6 percent in the second half but struggled at the free throw line, netting just 8-of-13 from the charity stripe.

The Gamecocks have a week to prepare for their next opponent. They travel to Kentucky for a7 p.m. tipoff on Thu., Feb. 5.