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Jan. 16, 2011

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OXFORD, Miss. – South Carolina senior Valerie Nainima scored seven of the team’s 11 points in overtime as the Gamecocks knocked off Ole Miss 63-58 in SEC women’s basketball action at Tad Smith Coliseum. Sophomore Ieasia Walker turned in her first career double-double with 20 points and 11 rebounds, both team highs, while adding three assists and two steals.

A defensive stand by the Gamecocks sent to the game to overtime, and Nainima opened the extra period firing, hitting a 3-pointer from the left corner for an early South Carolina lead. Ole Miss came back to take a 58-57 lead on Pa’Sonna Hope’s short jumper on an out-of-bounds play. Walker hit the second of two free throws to tie the game for the eighth time with 1:41 on the clock. The Gamecock defense forced Shae Nelson into a tough shot on the other end, and Nainima compounded the misfire with a 3-pointer from the right wing, putting South Carolina up 61-58 with 49 seconds to go. She went on to hit a free throw with 17 seconds left to make it a two-possession game, which the Rebels could not overcome.

South Carolina barreled out of the gate, riding high-end play on both sides of the ball to an 18-6 lead midway through the half. Baskets came from all directions with six of the nine Gamecocks finding the scoring column in the first 20 minutes. Jewel May got things off to a quick start with a putback, and Courtney Newton buried her first 3-pointer of the season from the left corner. After Ole Miss’ Valencia McFarland brought the Rebels within one at 5-4 with a long jump shot, the Gamecocks netted the next 10 points behind secure defensive rebounding and solid outside shooting.

La’Keisha Sutton opened the spurt with a short jump shot in the lane, and Markeshia Grant came off the bench to quickly bury her first 3-pointer of the game. After swiping a steal, Walker found the ball in her hands at the end of the shot clock and, after an aggressive drive to the basket, put up a circus shot that went down. She capped the run with a 3-pointer from the top of the arc for a 15-4 lead with 11:08 left in the half. Ole Miss got a layup from Nikki Byrd, but Walker answered with another 3 to give the Gamecocks their largest lead of the half 18-6.

Ole Miss inched its way back into the game as the Gamecock shooting cooled off, but a Walker transition layup stretched the South Carolina lead back to double digits at 23-13 with 5:21 left in the period. South Carolina struggled with turnovers down the stretch, though, and saw the Rebels close the gap to 25-24 on Kayla Melson’s steal and layup with 25 seconds left. Walker held for the last shot of the half and sent the Gamecocks into the locker room with a 28-24 lead courtesy of a step-back 3-pointer from the top of the arc at the buzzer.

The second half began much like the close of the first for the Gamecocks, suffering turnovers on three of their first four possessions of the half. The miscues allowed the Rebels to further narrow the gap. Back-to-back Melson drives to the bucket knotted the game at 28-28 two minutes into the period.

The teams traded the lead basket-by-basket for the next six minutes until Walker’s defense sparked a Gamecock rally. With the game tied at 34-34, Melson missed the second of two free throws, but Ole Miss got the offensive rebound. Walker dug the ball out, however, and found Ashley Bruner for a transition layup. After another missed shot by the Rebels, Walker hit a transition layup of her own for a 38-34 Gamecock lead. Courtney Mabras long jump shot was the only hiccup for the scrappy Gamecocks’ 8-2 spurt as Walker and Sutton put in back-to-back layups on the next two possessions for a 42-36 lead with 7:24 to play.

The Rebels had another run in them, however, and turned defensive rebounds into quick points as a 9-0 run put Ole Miss in front 48-47 with 3:46 left to play. A one-point lead seesawed back and forth, the last was for Ole Miss on a runner in the lane from McFarland with 1:31 left in regulation. South Carolina misfired on its next possession, but a Sutton offensive rebound created a foul and sent the junior guard to the free throw line. She hit 1-of-2 to knot the game at 52-52 with 1:06 on the clock. A foul on the other end sent Melson to the line, but the Rebels’ leading scorer missed the front end of a 1-and-1, and the ball went back to the Gamecocks. South Carolina could not connect on the other end, and it was up to the defense to hold off the Rebels. Ole Miss’ Shae Nelson took a long jumper with three seconds left, but the shot would not fall and the ball bounced out of bounds to the Rebels with 1.8 seconds to go. Again the Gamecock defense held strong and did not allow Ole Miss to get a shot off.

Nainima joined Walker in double figures with 11 points, including her seven in the overtime period. Sutton handed out six assists to go with her nine points, and Bruner pulled down nine rebounds, including four on the offensive end.

The Gamecocks are back in action on Thur., Jan. 20, opening a three-game homestand against No. 5/6 Tenneessee at 7 p.m.