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Dec. 19, 2010

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MYRTLE BEACH, S.C. – South Carolina dropped a 75-51 decision to No. 10/11 North Carolina in women’s basketball action Sunday afternoon at the Myrtle Beach Convention Center. The second game of the Carolinas Classic was a struggle offensively and on the glass for the Gamecocks (5-5), but the Tar Heels (11-0) had to earn their right to stay undefeated as South Carolina stayed close in the first half and battled to the very end of the game.

The Gamecocks had a difficult time shooting in the first half, hitting just 27.3 percent from the field and just 1-of-15 from 3-point range, allowing the Tar Heels to drop back defensively. Still, the game was tied five times and the lead changed hands twice through the first 20 minutes as South Carolina forced 17 North Carolina turnovers. The rebounding told the tale of the game as the Tar Heels out-rebounded the undersized Gamecocks 53-29 for the game, including 21 offensive boards that led to 25 second-chance points.

The early part of the contest was nip and tuck for the Tar Heels as South Carolina’s defense forced turnovers at key times. La’Keisha Sutton was the primary aggressor on offense for the Gamecocks in those early minutes as she scored seven of the team’s first seven points on a variety of drives to the basket. She opened her personal 7-0 spurt with a full-court sprint to the basket and followed that with a transition layup off a great pass from Ieasia Walker. After a hitting 1-of-2 free throws the next trip down the court, Sutton swiped a steal and laid it up in traffic to knot the game for a third time a 9-9.

North Carolina’s She’la White hit a long jumper in transition to put the Tar Heels up 18-13 with 10:30 left in the half, but the Gamecocks scored the next six points to take a 19-18 lead. Jewel May, who was banging with UNC’s post players underneath throughout the half, hit a pair of free throws to start the streak. Marah Strickland buried a 3-pointer from the left wing, and Samone Kennedy’s free throw gave South Carolina its first lead of the game at the 8:23 mark.

The advantage was fleeting, however, with Cetera DeGraffenreid hitting a quick basketball to spark a 7-0 North Carolina surge. Turnovers plagued the Gamecocks during the stretch, as did the Tar Heel’s rebounding. Latifah Coleman picked up a steal and a layup, and Laura Broomfield hit a free throw on the next possession. After a scramble for a rebound on the North Carolina end, Jessica Breland hit a bucket in traffic from the right block for a 25-19 Tar Heel advantage with just under seven minutes to play.

Scoring came in bunches for North Carolina to end the half, and the Tar Heels took a 41-27 lead into the lockerroom. South Carolina shot better in the second half, but could not close the 14-point halftime deficit.

Junior guard Marah Strickland led the Gamecocks with 18 points, including 4-of-10 from 3-point range. Sutton finished with nine points, four assists and five steals. She also tied May and Charenee Stephens for team-high honors with five rebounds.

South Carolina returns home for one more game before the holiday break. The Gamecocks will host Butler, which opened the Carolina’s Challenge with a win over Coastal Carolina, on Tue., Dec. 21, at 7 p.m. at Colonial Life Arena.