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Nov. 26, 2009

Box Score
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Coach Staley

ST. THOMAS, Virgin Islands – South Carolina rallied in the second half but could not overcome an early deficit in a 75-67 loss to No. 20/16 Oklahoma in the first game of the 2009 Paradise Jam at the University of the Virgin Islands Sports and Fitness Center. The Gamecocks (2-2) saw the Sooners (3-1) storm out to a big early lead before head coach Dawn Staley’s crew clamped down on defense and gave OU all it could handle down the stretch. Sophomore Charenee Stephens was key to the Gamecocks out-rebounding the Sooners 40-35 as she pulled down 10, including seven on the offensive end.

Oklahoma opened the game on fire from the field while the Gamecocks struggled, falling behind 12-0 with just over four minutes gone. The Sooners’ first-half lead twice grew to 20 points and hovered there until South Carolina put together a 6-0 run to close the half trailing 41-29.

In a tale of two halves, it was the Gamecocks that took control to open the second period. After OU’s Danielle Robinson opened the half, South Carolina found its shot and controlled the boards on the defensive end. La’Keisha Sutton kicked off a 14-4 run with a driving layup, and, following an OU turnover, Kelsey Bone sank a pair of free throws, then connected on a free-throw line jumper in a span of 30 seconds to narrow the Sooners’ lead to eight. Sutton converted a traditional three-point play to get within five as the Sooners were one-and-done on the other end. Abi Olajuwon stopped the bleeding, but only briefly as Jewel May drove the lane for a layup, and Valerie Nainima drained a 3-pointer from the left corner to make it a 45-43 game with 14:07 left to play.

The Gamecock rally lit the fuse for Oklahoma, which capitalized at the free throw line and found its range from the 3-point line to get its lead back to double digits. Trailing by 14 with 8:31 to go, South Carolina mounted a 7-0 surge behind solid play in the paint. Bone hit a free throw, Stephens and Bone recorded consecutive put backs, and Sutton drove for another layup to pull within 63-56 at the 7:00 mark.

OU got a 3-pointer from Whitney Hand to stem the tide, but then Bone re-established her dominance inside. A free throw and a traditional three-point play in transition preceded a Sutton driving layup, and the Gamecocks were within four points, 66-62, with 5:43 to play. Olajuwon hit one of her two free throws, which Bone answered with a driving for a 67-64 contest with 4:50 left to play.

With both teams making steady trips to the free throw line, the margin did not change a frenetically as the pace of play with the Gamecocks’ aggressive defense slowing the Sooners’ offense. A Bone layup with 1:38 on the clock made it a 70-67 South Carolina deficit, but it was the last offense the Gamecocks would generate as the Sooners salted away the clock and preserved their lead at the free throw line.

Three Gamecocks finished in double figures with Bone leading the way with 18 points, 16 of which she netted in the second half. Nainima finished with 14, and Sutton rounded out the trio with 13. Stephens posted her third-straight double-figure rebounding game, adding six points and two steals to the Gamecock effort.

South Carolina shot 44.1 percent in the second half, but could not come back from allowing the Sooners to hit 59.4 percent in the first half. The Gamecocks won the battle in the paint 44-36 and on the glass, scoring 18 second-chance points to Oklahoma’s nine.

The road does not get any easier for the Gamecocks as they face No. 5/6 Notre Dame on Fri., Nov. 27, at 3 p.m. (ET).