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Nov. 22, 2012

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ST. THOMAS, U.S.V.I. – South Carolina fought out a 45-34 victory over Hampton in the first game of the U.S. Virgin Islands Paradise Jam on Thursday afternoon. In a game that saw more rebounds than points, the Gamecocks (5-0) got a double-double from sophomore Aleighsa Welch (16 points/11 rebounds) to stay undefeated on the season. Of Welch’s 16 points, 12 came in the second half, including 10 of the team’s first 13 in the period.

Offense was tough to come by for both teams in the first half with the Gamecocks edging out to a 19-13 lead heading into the locker room. The teams combined for just 12 field goals in the first 20 minutes, and South Carolina stayed in front behind solid rebounding and 50.0 percent 3-point shooting.

Tiffany Mitchell put South Carolina up 5-0 with a 3-pointer from the right side, just the second of the season for the slashing guard. Hampton pulled within a point at 5-4 before a four-minute scoring drought set in. Ashley Bruner ended it with a basket from the left block, and Asia Dozier stretched the lead to 10-4 with a 3-pointer from the top of the arc. The Gamecocks put together three straight baskets in the longest scoring surge of the half, kicked off by a 3 from Wilka Montout and helped by three straight turnovers from the Lady Pirates. Mitchell made them pay for the first with a driving layup, and Welch put back a miss for a 17-6 Gamecock lead with 3:30 left in the half. Hampton answered by scoring on three straight possessions as well, but could only draw within six.

Things picked up out of the locker room as Welch took control of the paint and Ieasia Walker had her shot dialed in from outside. Welch scored the first six points of the half to give the Gamecocks a double-digit lead at 25-15, and Walker stretched it with a 3-pointer from the right side. South Carolina extended its lead to 36-21 before the Lady Pirates took advantage of repeated trips to the free throw line to draw within nine with 7:17 on the clock.

Bruner and Welch turned back the tide with a putback and a transition layup, respectively, to get the Gamecocks back in front 40-27. From there, both defenses took over, and the Gamecocks avoided becoming the third SEC victim of the Lady Pirates this season. For South Carolina, it was a defensive effort that limited Hampton’s top scorer, Keiara Avant, who entered the game averaging 22.0 points, to single digits for the first time this season.

Welch was the only Gamecock in double-figure points, but Bruner joined her on the glass with 12 rebounds. South Carolina won the rebounding matchup 57-32 and held Hampton to just 19.3 (11-57) percent shooting, tied for fifth-lowest by an opponent in Gamecock women’s basketball history (originally set by Florida A&M on Dec. 30, 2001).

South Carolina will have to shake off the battle quickly as the Gamecocks take on Florida Gulf Coast on Friday at 3:30 p.m. (ET) before squaring off with DePaul on Saturday, also at 3:30 p.m. (ET).