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Dec. 12, 2010

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South Carolina vs. NC State
December 12, 2010 • Columbia, S.C.
Team 1st 2nd Total
NC State 22 41 63
South Carolina 37 40 77
Coach Staley V. Nainima & M. Strickland

COLUMBIA, S.C. – A season-best shooting percentage and a total team effort yielded a 77-63 South Carolina victory over NC State in women’s basketball action this afternoon at Colonial Life Arena. Senior guard Valerie Nainima had a triumphant return from ACL surgery, but it was three other Gamecocks guards that poured in the points as Marah Strickland, La’Keisha Sutton and Ieasia Walker each netted at least 15. The Gamecocks (5-4) shot a season-high 51.8 percent from the field as the team and forced 24 Wolfpack turnovers in the victory.

From the opening tip, the South Carolina guards aggressively attacked the NC State defense on one side of the floor and relentlessly hounded the Wolfpack offense on the other side. Samone Kennedy got the ball rolling with a drive right out of the gate. Walker matched it for a 4-0 lead. Charenee Stephens finished a layup after a dish from a driving Sutton, the first of her team-high four assists on the day, and Walker buried a 3-pointer from the left corner to put South Carolina up 9-2 just three minutes into the game.

NC State’s Amber White hit a pull-up jumper with 16:06 on the clock, but then it was all Gamecocks for the next nine minutes as they put together a 16-0 run. Sutton hit a step-back jumper from just outside the paint and followed with a drive across the lane. Nainima stepped onto the court and put up her first 3-pointer of the season in under a minute, hitting it from the top of the key, shaking off any nervousness or concern the Gamecock faithful had about her return just 4-1/2 months after ACL surgery. Jewel May put back a missed shot, Nainima added a long jumper from the left corner, Strickland hit a 3 and Ashley Bruner sank a pair of free throws to put the Gamecocks up 25-4 with just under seven minutes left in the half.

On the other side, the Wolfpack struggled to hit shots, and the Gamecock defensive pressure yielded 12 turnovers in the first 20 minutes of the game. South Carolina took a 37-22 lead into halftime, their largest margin of the season.

NC State came roaring back in the second half, however, as players other than White, who had 15 of her 22 points in the first half, helped out offensively. A 13-3 surge, aided by a spate of Gamecock turnovers, opened the second period and brought the Wolfpack within five at 40-35. Nainima stemmed the tide, however, hitting a cold-blooded 3-pointer at the end of the shot clock from the right wing. After a steal by Strickland on the other end, Nainima again went to work at the end of the shot clock, finding Bruner unattended in the lane. Her layup stretched the South Carolina lead back to double-digits.

The lead see-sawed for the rest of the half as the Gamecocks allowed the Wolfpack to pull within six points nine different times over the final 14 minutes, kicking in just enough offense to allow NC State no closer than four points at any time. The Wolfpack went to full-court pressure midway through the stretch, but Nainima was able to pick it apart each time.

Sutton led the offense with 18 points on 8-of-15 shooting while handing out four assists and picking up two steals. Strickland added 17 points, including three 3-pointers, and swiped two steals. Walker rounded out the double-digit scorers with 15 points and tallied four steals, one shy of her career high. Nainima finished her first game back with eight points, three assists and two steals in 12 minutes of action.

The Gamecocks are back in action on Sun., Dec. 19, in Myrtle Beach, facing No. 12/13 North Carolina in the Carolinas Challenge. South Carolina returns to Colonial Life Arena for a Tue., Dec. 21, matchup against Butler at 7 p.m. before taking a break for the holiday.