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Dec. 29, 2012

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COLUMBIA, S.C. – No. 19/16 South Carolina closed out its non-conference schedule with a 66-44 win over Western Carolina Saturday night at Colonial Life Arena. Every Gamecock that played found the scoring column, led by freshman Tiffany Mitchell’s 12 points, as South Carolina shot a season-high 50.0 percent. Senior guard Ieasia Walker swiped five steals to become just the 13th Gamecock all-time to record over 200 in her career. Sophomore center Elem Ibiam tied her carer high with five blocked shots, matching the third-most in Colonial Life Arena history.

The Gamecock offense was active early, helped by an aggressive defense that forced Western Carolina into 14 turnovers in just the first half. Freshman Tiffany Mitchell had her 3-point shooting going right out of the gate, hitting a pair in the first five minutes of the game as the Gamecocks opened a 12-4 lead. Her first provided the first points of the game and was quickly followed by a pull-up jumper from the right elbow by Sancheon White. After Alex Abraham got the Catamounts on the board, Ieasia Walker found Aleighsa Welch in traffic for a transition layup. Welch picked up a steal on the other end, which resulted in a Mitchell layup. Ali Lane hit a long jumper for Western Carolina that was originally ruled a 3-pointer but was later reversed. There was no doubt on Mitchell’s long-range strike off a pass from Welch after an offensive rebound, and the Gamecocks had a 12-4 lead just over five minutes into the game.

With the Gamecocks up 19-6, the Catamounts put together a 7-2 surge as South Carolina went to its bench. Elem Ibiam put back a teammate’s missed shot to put the Gamecocks back up double-digits at 23-13 with 8:08 left in the half. From there, neither team could score for nearly the next four minutes until Khadijah Sessions hit a transition layup. From there, Ibiam took over in the paint, adding four more points to her eight-point half to send the Gamecocks into the locker room with a 29-18 halftime lead.

The second half opened with a flurry for South Carolina. The Gamecocks gave up the first two points of the half, but proceeded to score 10 of the next 12 to stretch their lead to 39-23 just four minutes into the final period. Less than three minutes later, White kicked off three straight 3-pointers for the Gamecocks, and Wilka Montout added a jumper on a feed from Walker to extend the lead to 55-34. The Catamounts could not muster enough offense to close the gap in the final eight minutes of the game.

South Carolina shot 60.0 percent in the second half en route to its season-high shooting percentage for the game. Four Gamecocks scored seven or more points as Walker narrowly missed double figures with nine points. Welch and Ibiam added eight each, and White and Sessions finished with seven apiece. Ibiam’s nine rebounds led the way on the glass, with five of those coming on the offensive end. Walker added four assists to her total effort tonight.

“Ieasia [Walker] has been doing this for three years,” South Carolina head coach Dawn Staley said of her senior guard’s effort in the game and reaching her career milestone. “When I think about life after Ieasia Walker, I realize that we are really going to miss her quarterbacking our basketball team. She exhausts herself on both sides of the ball, and you couldn’t asks for a player to work as hard as she has worked. The good thing is that it isn’t just something that she does in games – it is how she practices. Her body is really conditioned to play that way. She is our leader and someone who is going to will us to some wins now that we are entering SEC play.”

South Carolina kicks off SEC play on Thu., Jan. 3, hosting No. 13/15 Tennessee at Colonial Life Arena. Tipoff is slated for 9 p.m., and the game will be broadcast on SportSouth.