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March 8, 2013

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DULUTH, Ga. – No. 17/14 South Carolina mounted a late rally, but fell short of the full comeback in a 61-52 loss to No. 19/19 Texas A&M in the quarterfinals of the SEC Women’s Basketball Tournament Friday afternoon. Seniors Ashley Bruner and Ieasia Walker led the way and spearheaded the final surge, but could not replicate the Gamecocks’ run into the semifinals from last season. Bruner finished with her second double-double in as many games, leading all scorers with 19 points to go with 11 rebounds. Walker finished with 15 points and five assists.

The Gamecocks were sluggish out of the gate, and the Aggies opened an 8-2 lead just four minutes into the game. A spate of turnovers and near misses at the rim allowed the South Carolina deficit to grow to double digits at 21-11 with 6:44 to play. With the Aggie’s All-SEC center, Kelsey Bone, on the bench with two fouls, the Gamecocks surged toward the halftime break with a 10-3 run that left them trailing by just three heading into the second half.

The Gamecocks were all over the glass on both ends of the floor during the stretch, and shots starting falling as the inside opened up. Walker kicked things off with a drive up the lane, and Aleighsa Welch added three of the next five points form the free throw line. Her four attempts were sandwiched around a pull-up jumper from Sancheon White in the lane as South Carolina allowed the Aggies just one attempt each trip down the floor to draw within three at 21-18 with 3:37 left in the half. Karla Gilbert converted a traditional three-point play to temporarily stop the run, but South Carolina was right back at it. Bruner netted the next three points, and Elem Ibiam dominated the defensive glass down the stretch to keep the Aggies of the board.

Trailing by just three at 24-21 at the break, South Carolina tied it up at 28-28 on a drive and 3-pointer from Walker with 17:35 to go. The teams traded the lead four times before Texas A&M took advantage of fouls piling up on the Gamecocks to open an 11-1 run that included six free throws. The lead grew to double digits behind another parade to the free throw line for the Aggies, although there were hitting just 1-of-2 on the last two trips.

Trailing 54-42 with 6:26 to play, the Gamecocks mounted another charge as seniors Bruner and Walker refused to cede the game, getting plenty of defensive rebounding help from Ibiam. The 7-0 surge started when Bruner stuck back an offensive rebound to draw within 10. After a clutch defensive rebound from Asia Dozier, Bruner converted a traditional three-point play. Ibiam’s work on the defensive glass started a fast break, which Walker finished to pull the Gamecocks with 54-49 with just under four minutes to play.

The Aggies regrouped, seizing momentum by forcing the Gamecocks into difficult, contested shots and crashing the defensive glass in the closing minutes of the game. Late trips to the free throw line sealed the win for Texas A&M, who advanced to meet No. 9/9 Tennessee on Friday.

South Carolina won the rebounding battle 46-33 against the taller Aggies and matched their points in the paint with 34 each. But the Aggies turned 18 Gamecock turnovers into 14 points and shot 20-of-28 (.714) from the free throw line.

The Gamecocks will wait for NCAA Tournament selections to be announced on Mon., March 18, to see where their season will continue.