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Feb. 11, 2010

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WBB Post-Game Blog: A Hard Lesson

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Coach Staley
Charenee Stephens and La’Keisha Sutton

COLUMBIA, S.C. – South Carolina’s shot at the buzzer fell just short in a 55-53 loss to Mississippi State in SEC women’s basketball action Thursday night at Colonial Life Arena. The Gamecocks trailed by eight inside two minutes to play, but pressure defense and clutch shooting gave Carolina (13-11, 6-6 SEC) a last-second shot to send the game into overtime. Freshman center Kelsey Bone could not connect on her final attempt, however, and the Lady Bulldogs escaped with the win.

With four minutes to play, the Gamecocks trailed by seven thanks to a three-minute scoring drought that sparked a 17-4 run by Mississippi State. South Carolina junior Valerie Nainima drilled a 3 from the left corner to stop the surge, but the Lady Bulldogs put four more points on the board in the next two possessions to rebuild an eight-point margin at 54-46 with 1:46 to play.

After Ieasia Walker drained another 3 from the left corner, the Gamecocks ramped up the defensive pressure, forcing a Mississippi State shot clock violation. Nainima raced down the floor to hit a layup, pulling the Gamecocks within three at 54-51 just inside a minute to play. Another turnover by the Lady Bulldogs gave the Gamecocks possession with 41 seconds on the clock. Nainima drove to the free throw line and pulled up for a jumper, drawing a foul in the process. The shot swished through, sending Nainima to the free throw line with a chance to tie the game with 29 seconds left. A Gamecock lane violation erased the free throw attempt, however, giving the ball back to Mississippi State.

The Lady Bulldogs sustained the frenetic defensive pressure, forcing South Carolina to foul Alexis Rack with five seconds left. She hit just one of two shots, giving the Gamecocks a shot at either the win or overtime with just 2.9 seconds to go. South Carolina head coach Dawn Staley drew up a play for her young center, but the Lady Bulldogs provided just enough disruption for Bone’s shot to miss its mark as the buzzer sounded.

The two teams went into the locker room at halftime knotted at 23-23 as each team mounted a rally to shake off sloppy ball-handling in the last half of the period. Mississippi State turned a six-point deficit into a 21-19 lead with 3:16 left in the half thanks to three straight turnovers by the Gamecocks. South Carolina answered with consecutive baskets to reclaim a lead with 24 seconds on the clock, but let Rack get free for a jumper from the left elbow to tie things up heading into the break.

South Carolina had three players in double figures as Nainima led the way with 15 points while Charenee Stephens and Walker each added 10. Stephens completed her second double-double of the season with 10 rebounds, including six offensive. Bone finished with a game-high 13 boards, including seven on the offensive end.

The Gamecocks return to action on Sun., Feb. 14, with a 3 p.m. game against Arkansas. It is South Carolina’s WBCA Pink Zone game and will be televised on ESPN2.