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Feb. 15, 2009

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COLUMBIA, S.C. – South Carolina senior C.J. Pace scored 13 of her 18 points in the second half to lead the Gamecocks (10-14, 2-9 SEC) to a 68-57 win over Alabama in SEC women’s basketball action at Colonial Life Arena Sunday afternoon. The 5,438 fans saw South Carolina go on an 18-6 run in the final six minutes to collect is first home league win of the season. Teamwork was the order of the day as the Gamecocks collected a season-best 20 assists on 24 field goals.

South Carolina came back from an early deficit to tie the game 17-17 midway through the first half on Miranda Tate’s 3-pointer with the shot clock winding down. Alabama put together a 9-3 run to stretch its lead back to six just three minutes later, but the Gamecocks again fought back, beginning with a 3-pointer from sophomore Samone Kennedy and Pace’s improbable, off-balance runner in the lane, which narrowed the gap to 25-26 with 4:26 left in the period. Courtney Strauthers hit a free throw to briefly interrupt the surge, but Lakeish Sutton knotted the game at 27-27 with a pair of free throws. Pace sank a 3-pointer from the right wing for a 30-27 lead that the Gamecocks would not relinquish.

After taking a three-point lead into halftime, South Carolina withstood every surge the Crimson Tide made. After Courtney Newton’s 3-pointer from the top of the key and Charenee Stephens’ bucket from the right block gave the Gamecocks a seven-point lead, back-to-back inside baskets brought Alabama back within three with 12:38 left on the clock. The lead hovered around five points for the next six minutes, until a putback by Dedrea Magee cut the Gamecocks’ advange to just two at 50-48 with 6:29 left to go.

Stephens was the inside answer for the Gamecocks, hitting again from the right block to stretch the lead to four, and Pace followed with another 3-pointer to match Carolina’s largest lead of the afternoon at 55-48 with 4:45 left to play. The Gamecocks’ went to work on defense and on the glass, which set up an 8-0 run that put the game out of reach. Jewel May hit an uncontested layup after Carolina came up with the ball on a scramble near half-court, then Pace added a 3-pointer from the right side and a traditional three-point play on the next possession, following a missed 3-pointer from Alabama’s Alyson Butler on the other end.

The Crimson Tide tried to recover from the now 13-point deficit with just 1:54 left on the clock with a Tierney Jenkins baseline drive and a mid-range jumper from Varisia Raffington following a steal. South Carolina did just enough work at the free throw line as Kennedy hit 3-of-5 in the final minute to wrap up the victory.

Pace narrowly missed a double-double, adding nine rebounds to her game-high 18 points, while Stephens netted a season-best 15 points, 10 of which came in the first half to keep the Gamecocks close early, on 7-of-12 shooting. Sutton handed out a game-high six assists while adding seven points and five rebounds, and Newton grabbed six rebounds for the second-straight game, tying her career high in boards.

South Carolina has a week to prepare for its next game, a 2 p.m. tilt at No. 9/11 Florida on Sun., Feb. 22.