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Feb. 14, 2010

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Post-Game Blog: Slip Away

Coach Staley

COLUMBIA, S.C. – South Carolina went from tickled pink to seeing red as Arkansas mounted a late 20-2 rally to steal a 72-68 victory in SEC women’s basketball action at Colonial Life Arena, spoiling the Gamecocks’ WBCA Pink Zone celebration. South Carolina (13-12, 6-7 SEC) saw an 18-point lead turn into a two-point deficit in the final eight minutes of the game as Arkansas (10-14, 3-9 SEC) ramped up the defensive pressure late and shot 57.6 percent in the second half.

The Gamecocks were clicking on all cylinders for the entire first half, starting with an 8-0 run to open the contest. Arkansas’ Lyndsay Harris hit a 3-pointer to get the Razorbacks on the board, but South Carolina guards Ebony Wilson, La’Keisha Sutton and Valerie Nainima rattled off the next six points to claim an 11-point margin. Arkansas cut it back to six, but an 11-0 spurt, carried largely by heady play from the post players that saw Charenee Stephens net eight points, had the Gamecocks in front by 17 points with 6:33 left to go in the half.

Leading 35-21 at the break, the Gamecocks maintained a 16-point advantage through the eight-minute mark in the second half. The Razorbacks lifted their defensive pressure and matched the Gamecocks on the glass, either forcing turnovers or limiting South Carolina to one shot to spark the fateful 20-2 surge. As the defense grew in confidence, the Arkansas offense began clicking as well. After shooting just 8-of-24 (33.3%) in the first half, the Razorbacks netted 57.6 percent of their shots in the second 20 minutes. They also matched South Carolina on the glass with 18 rebounds apiece after the Gamecocks had out-rebounded them 23-14 in the first half.

Having seen their 18-point advantage turn into a two-point deficit at 65-63, the Gamecocks leveled the score on a Kelsey Bone jumper after Samone Kennedy snagged an offensive rebound. South Carolina’s defense forced a shot clock violation on the Razorbacks’ next possession, and another key offensive rebound led to a Kennedy 3-pointer from the right corner, putting South Carolina up 68-65 with 1:13 left to play.

Arkansas’ Sarah Watkins was fouled in a scramble for the rebound on Kennedy’s missed jumper, and her two free throws brought the Razorbacks within 68-67 with 20 seconds left. With the shot clock off, Arkansas was forced to foul Nainima on the inbounds play. The Gamecock junior missed the front end of the 1-and-1, and Charity Ford hauled in the rebound for the Razorbacks. Arkansas drove the ball up the floor quickly, finding Watkins in transition. Hitting the layup to give the Razorbacks a one-point lead, she converted her free throw as well for a 70-68 Arkansas advantage.

With eight seconds left, South Carolina drew up a final play. Nainima drove up the court, shedding her primary defender but Lyndsay Harris took a swipe and picked up the game-clinching steal with just three seconds to play.

Three Gamecocks scored in double figures, led by Nainima’s 16 points. Stephens added 14, and Bone posted her eighth double-double of the season with 12 points and a game-high 12 rebounds. Sutton tied her career high with seven assists. South Carolina shot 48.4 percent from the field, but managed just 2-of-12 from 3-point range and hit 4-of-13 from the free throw line.

The Gamecocks are back on the road Sun., Feb. 21, in a 3 p.m. re-match with No. 17/16 Kentucky.