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Dec. 20, 2009

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Coach Staley

MYRTLE BEACH, S.C. – A second-straight double-double from Kelsey Bone and a near double-double from Valerie Nainima led South Carolina to the brink of an upset of No. 9/10 North Carolina this afternoon in the Carolinas Challenge. The Tar Heels (9-1) managed to hold off the Gamecocks (6-4) 93-85 with solid free throw shooting down the stretch.

The Gamecocks were solid early and late in the first half. A 6-0 surge by guards La’Keisha Sutton and Ieasia Walker cut an eight-point deficit down to two at 16-14 after Walker’s second-straight bucket in transition. The Tar Heels capitalized on defensive rebounding and turnovers to answer with an 11-0 spurt to open up a 27-14 lead midway through the half.

With the deficit at 18 points with 5:19 to go, South Carolina chipped away with active defense and solid free throw shooting. After Tierra Ruffin-Pratt made it a 42-24 lead for North Carolina, Walker sank a pair of free throws, followed by a steal and layup from Valerie Nainima and a free throw from Ebony Wilson to draw within 12 with 2:18. Cetera DeGraffenreid drove through the swarming South Carolina defense to stem the tide, but Nainima had found the range. A free throw started her personal 9-0 run that included back-to-back 3-pointers off North Carolina turnovers and a long jumper to pull the Gamecocks within five at 44-39 at halftime.

The Tar Heels looked to assert themselves right out of the locker room, pushing their lead to nine points as Italee Lucas hit a pair of free throws and a 3-pointer from the top of the key. The Gamecocks would not go away, though, hovering around an eight-point deficit through the first media time out before the guards again went to work. Samone Kennedy hit a jumper from the elbow to open a 6-0 surge that narrowed the gap to 57-54 with 15:09 left to play. Chay Shegog interrupted the spurt briefly with a mid-range jumper, but the Gamecocks went right back to work.

Nainima drained a 3-pointer to cut the lead to two, and she lined up another to take the lead but saw it bounce off the rim. On the next possession, the Gamecocks secured the defensive rebound and found Kennedy streaking up the court for a layup to knot the game at 59-59 with just under 14 minutes remaining. Bone worked hard defensively on the Tar Heels’ next trip down the floor, forcing a missed shot, then put the Gamecocks up for the first time in the game with a move on the right block. South Carolina kept up the defensive pressure, hounding the Tar Heels into one shot opportunity or a turnover to extend the Gamecocks’ lead to 65-59 with 11:18 to go in the game.

North Carolina finally solved the aggressive Gamecock defense to put together a 7-0 stretch, led by five points from DeGraffenreid to reclaim the lead at 66-65 just over one minute later. Bone went right back to work with a pair of moves on the right block to give the Gamecocks a 69-66 margin with just over nine minutes on the clock.

From that point, the free throws began to pile up for the Tar Heels beginning with a three-point play from Ruffin-Pratt that tied the game at 69-69. The game’s frenetic pace ramped up even further in the final five minutes as the teams traded baskets, but the Gamecocks could not overcome the Tar Heels in the waning moments of the contest.

Bone finished with a game-high 27 points on 11-of-17 shooting to go with 10 rebounds, including six on the offensive end. Nainima’s 26 points came with nine assists, just missing her first career double-double. Freshman Ieasia Walker netted a career-high 12 points to go with four assists and four steals.