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Jan. 10, 2013

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Coach Staley Welch, White

COLUMBIA, S.C. – Tough defense and an efficient offense propelled No. 18/16 South Carolina (14-2, 2-1 SEC) to a 64-48 win over Vanderbilt Thursday night at Colonial Life Arena. Aleighsa Welch and Ieasia Walker combined for 25 points, but every available Gamecock scored at least two points as the bench accounted for 18 points. Senior Sancheon White’s highlighted the defensive effort with three blocks, three steals and a team-high eight rebounds to tie her career high.

“I said in the locker that if we had a game ball to give out, [Sancheon White] would have gotten it,” South Carolina head coach Dawn Staley said. “She has taken the challenge of defending and pretty much shutting down our opponent’s best offensive player. We also tried to open Sancheon up to scoring a little bit more. She is the quickest thing out there. She just played with a certain tenacity, a refuse to lose attitude, and I think it was contagious throughout our entire team.”

Both teams got off to a slow start, putting up only nine total points in the five minutes of the game. After trailing 7-4 at the first media timeout, the Gamecocks picked up the pace and went on an 8-0 run to take a 12-7 lead that was immediately followed by a 17-3 surge that gave South Carolina a double-digit lead that the Commodores could not crack for the remainder of the game.

Welch opened the initial run with a putback, and Tiffany Mitchell scored a quick bucket from the right block on the next possession. Walker swiped a steal on the Commodores’ next possession and fought off a challenge from the chasing defender to muscle the ball up for a layup. Three straight Vanderbilt turnovers kept the run alive as Welch converted from the right block. A Tiffany Clarke basket was only a brief interruption in South Carolina’s offensive flurry.

Elem Ibiam played dominant minutes midway through the first half, taking a lob pass from Ashley Bruner for a bucket while getting fouled. After Vanderbilt had a pair of empty possessions, Bruner hit a free throw, and Walker found Ibiam in transition for her second basket in a two-minute span. South Carolina’s harassing defense yielded two more steals to keep Vandy at bay, while Asia Dozier drove from the 3-point arc for a layup, and Welch hit a layup in transition after a White block on the other end, putting the Gamecocks up 21-9 with 7:26 to play.

Heather Bowe drove the lane for a Vanderbilt basket, but Bruner immediate answered on the other end. Bowe’s free throw on the next possession brought the Commodores within 23-12, but another defense stand was sandwiched between Gamecock 3-pointers – first a deep one at the end of the shot clock from Walker and then from Wilka Montout left alone on the left wing. The last of the daggers made it a 29-12 Gamecock lead with 4:12 left in the half.

After the Gamecocks went into the halftime break leading 36-20, the teams played evenly in the second half, each scoring 28-points as the Commodores took advantage of 90.9 percent free throw shooting in the game. South Carolina’s shooting percentage fell in the second half, but the Gamecocks provided enough offense to hold on for the 16-point victory.

The Gamecocks’ aggressive defense locked in on the 3-point arc to stymie the Commodore offense throughout the game. Vanderbilt entered the night taking 15.9 3-pointers per game, only to have South Carolina allow seven attempts from behind the arc. The Gamecocks turned 17 Vandy turnovers into 19 points and out-rebounded the Commodores 35-31.

South Carolina shot 57.7 percent (15-26) in the first half. Welch led all scorers with 13 points, while Walker was close behind with 12. Ibiam tallied nine points to lead the bench production. White’s eight rebounds were a game-high, and Walker handed out five assists to go with her three steals.

South Carolina travels to No. 13/12 Georgia for a 1 p.m. tipoff on Sun., Jan. 13. The Gamecocks return to Columbia for a game against LSU on Thur., Jan. 17, which will be played at Carolina Coliseum. More information about tickets and parking for that game will be released early next week.