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Jan. 30, 2011

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AUBURN, Ala. – South Carolina dropped a 54-47 decision at Auburn in SEC women’s basketball action Sunday afternoon at Auburn Arena. The Gamecocks (12-10, 4-5 SEC) fought back from a pair of 11-point deficits in the second half to take a two-point lead in the last six minutes, but the Tigers (13-8, 6-2 SEC) clamped down defensively and held South Carolina scoreless over the final 5:40 to collect the win.

South Carolina struggled offensively in the first half, committing 10 turnovers, but the defense kept the Tigers within reach. After falling behind 12-4 eight minutes into the half, the Gamecocks scratched their way back. Ieasia Walker netted a 3-pointer from the left corner off a great feed from La’Keisha Sutton. Walker then swiped a steal and turned it into a layup to pull South Carolina within three just a minute later. A 3-pointer from Blanche Alverson doubled the Tiger lead, but a free throw from Charenee Stephens and a long jumper from Valerie Nainima had the Gamecocks back within three (22-19) with 2:19 left in the half. The lead was four in the waning moments of the half, and the Tigers nearly doubled it again, forcing a turnover and Morgan Toles scoring a traditional three-point play to send her team into the locker room with a 26-19 advantage.

The Gamecocks fell behind by 10 (39-29) with just under 14 minutes to play, but Ashley Bruner sparked a 15-4 run that would give South Carolina its first lead of the game. Bruner put back an offensive rebound to get things started. After a Tiger turnover, Stephens hit a free throw, and Markeshia Grant added a 3-pointer at the end of the shot clock on the next possession. The Gamecocks turned consecutive Auburn turnovers into back-to-back buckets by Bruner on the right block to tie the game 39-39 with 9:52 to play.

Alverson stopped the run with a move on the left side, but a 3-pointer from Walker on the right wing put the Gamecocks up 42-41. After the teams traded one-point leads, Bruner put the Gamecocks up 47-45 with a move on the block at the end of the shot clock. A pair of free throws from Toles tied the game at 47-47 with 5:31 to go.

Neither team could find the basket over the next 3:30, and it was the Tigers that struck with a Toles drive that resulted in a traditional three-point play. It would be the first of her personal 9-0 run that delivered the win for Auburn. On the other end of the floor, the Gamecocks had their opportunities to break through, but typical strengths escaped them. Three times they misfired on free throws, including twice on the front end of 1-and-1s, and few close-range shots would not fall down either in the final minutes of play.

South Carolina got 15 points and eight boards off the bench from Bruner, both team highs, while Walker added 12 points and three steals. The Tigers forced the Gamecocks into 18 turnovers, which they turned into 17 points. Sutton handed out four assists. South Carolina shot just 32.2 percent from the field and 38.5 percent from the free throw line in the loss.

The Gamecocks return to action next Sunday with a 4 p.m. (ET) game at Arkansas, which will be broadcast live on ESPNU.