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Feb. 3, 2013

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COLUMBIA, S.C. – A career-high 19 points from freshman guard Khadijah Sessions propelled No. 15/13 South Carolina past Auburn 59-51 Sunday afternoon at Colonial Life Arena. Sessions shot 8-of-9 from the free throw line, including 5-of-6 in the final 90 seconds of the game to help seal the victory.

“Each game [Sessions] is growing confidence,” Coach Dawn Staley. “We knew when she decided to come here and play at South Carolina that she would be a special player. She has been very patient in the growth process, learning and getting more and more information. She is playing well at a good tie for us and adds another ball-handler and scorer to our offense. I’m really happy for her because I watched her sit back, not playing much, but when we called her number at Florida [a few weeks ago], she was ready and has been playing well ever since.”

The Gamecocks handled early pressure from the Tigers, breaking the press and moving the ball around Auburn’s zone defense. Ieasia Walker started the Gamecocks off in the first half with a 3-pointer from the right corner. The teams traded baskets, keeping the score always within three points until Walker made a layup from the right side to put the Gamecocks up four at 19-15.

With 5:46 left in the half, a steal by Tiffany Mitchell led to back-to-back 3s from Wilka Moutout and Sessions, part of a 6-0 run that gave the Gamecocks their biggest lead at 26-17. The Gamecocks went into the locker room having allowed Auburn only six second-chance points. Additionally South Carolina turned 11 Auburn turnovers into 10 points in the opening 20 minutes.

Auburn started out the second half with a vengeance, going on an 8-2 run. South Carolina quelled the surge firing up the crowd by converting rebounds from Sessions and Welch into layups. With 11:21 left to play, Elem Ibiam grabbed a rebound and fed it to Sessions, who was fouled and sank both free throws. On the next possession, Sessions netted a jumper from the left side of the lane to put the Gamecocks ahead 41-37, and Welch followed with a transition layup. After Ashley Bruner broke up a pass on the other end, Welch was fouled on an offensive rebound. She sank both free throws to put the Gamecocks up 45-37 with 9:21 left to play.

The Gamecock offense slowed from there, leaving Mitchell’s baseline jumper from the left side as just a brief interruption in what would become a 8-2 Auburn run to bring the Tigers to within two at 49-47 with 2:40 left. South Carolina survived the spurt thanks to Sessions and Welch’s combined 7-of-8 effort from the free throw line in the final 1:26 to ice the game for the Gamecocks.

Sessions’ 19 points led a trio of Gamecocks in double figures as Welch and Mitchell each added 10. South Carolina shot 49.1 percent from the field and a season-high 67.9 percent from the free throw line. Walker finished the game with five assists and four steals and tied Mitchell for team-high honors with four rebounds.

South Carolina travels to Tuscaloosa, Ala., to take on the Crimson Tide on Thu., Feb. 7, before returning to Colonial Life Arena for a 3:30 p.m. game against #16/16 Texas A&M on Sun., Feb. 10.