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Jan. 27, 2013

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FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. — No. 18/14 South Carolina escaped Arkansas with a 43-40 victory that the Gamecock defense delivered with stand after stand in the final minutes of play. Points game from a variety of sources, but it was the defensive pressure that forced a rash of shot-clock violations and a clutch blocked shot to preserve the win. The Gamecocks improve to 6-2 in SEC action with their fourth-straight league win.

The first half was played at a frenetic pace for both teams, and the Gamecocks led 28-22 at the break. South Carolina scored first, but Arkansas built a 5-4 lead with good aggression in the lane. The Gamecocks answered with a 3-pointer from Sancheon White from the right side and a mid-range jumper from Ashley Bruner. The Razorbacks took advantage of a pair of turnovers to knot the game 9-9 just four minutes into the contest. South Carolina responded with a 12-3 run to leap in front 21-12 with 9:11 to go in the half.

Aleighsa Welch started the run with a short jumper. After a Razorback turnover, Ieasia Walker turned an offensive rebound into a 3-pointer from the right sixe, and White converted her own steal into a layup for a 16-9 advantage. Erin Gaitling hit a 3 from the top of the arc, but it was a brief interruption as Elem Ibiam made a move on the left block, and a steal yielded a free throw for Khadijah Sessions. Mitchell capped the spurt with a long jumper from the left wing.

The Razorbacks capitalized on Gamecock turnovers and limited South Carolina to one shot per possession to score the game’s next eight points and pull within one at 21-20 with 6:11 left in the half. Both offenses stagnated, although action quickly changed ends of the floor. South Carolina scored seven of the half’s last nine points to carry a six-point lead into the break.

The Gamecocks built an eight-point lead with just under 13 minutes to play, but the Razorbacks would not go away. South Carolina turned it over on three straight possessions, and Arkansas turned them into six points to pull within 36-34 midway through the half. The Gamecock defense clamped down, forcing back-to-back shot-clock violations, but the offense could not convert the stops into points.

Finally, Burner hit from the right block to double the Gamecock lead, but Jhasmine Brown answered with a jumper from the right elbow. After Bruner converted a steal into a layup to go up 40-36, Welch came up with a pair of huge rebounds on the next two misses, the first on a Razorback misfire. On the other end, Bruner put up a shot that would not fall, but Welch was all over the glass, putting it back up and in while getting fouled. She converted the traditional three-point play to stretch the lead to seven with 3:44 to go.

Bowen hit a free throw for Arkansas, and the Razorbacks looked to build on that momentum with a turnover. Walker would not yield, though, swiping one of her five steals on the day to quickly get the ball back. The Gamecocks could not find the basket, though, and the pressure shifted right back to the defense. White blocked a shot with 2:03 to play, but again South Carolina was unable to stretch the lead.

After a steal attempt in the backcourt, gave the Razorbacks a 5-on-4 with just over a minute to play, and Calli Berna delivered a 3 from the top of the arc to get her team within three with 59 seconds to play. South Carolina misfired on its next possession, and the Razorbacks tracked down an offensive rebound to keep their hopes alive. A timeout set up the final pay, which the Gamecocks guarded to perfection, allowing Welch to swat away the 3-point attempt with eight seconds to go. The drama did not stop there, however, as the Razorbacks came up with a steal on the inbounds pass. With just 1.8 seconds to play, though, the Gamecock defense did not allow Arkansas to get off another shot at the tie.

Bruner finished as the lone Gamecock in double figures, netting 11, including seven in the second half. Tiffany Mitchell led the way on the glass with eight rebounds to go with her eight points. Bruner matched Walker’s five steals as the Gamecock defense forced Arkansas to shoot just 21.4 percent in the second half.

The Gamecocks are back at Colonial Life Arena next Sunday. South Carolina will host Auburn at 3 p.m.