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Dec. 8, 2013

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CHARLOTTE, N.C. – Junior forward Aleighsa Welch scored all 18 of her points in the second half to push No. 12/10 South Carolina past Charlotte 76-61 Sunday afternoon at Halton Arena. The Gamecocks led by one at the half behind great play from Elem Ibiam and saw Charlotte take a lead three times in the game as Welch was slowed by two early fouls. Welch’s return sparked a 14-2 run in the second half that closed the door on the hard-working 49ers and delivered South Carolina’s ninth win in as many games.

The first half was played in fits and starts, with the Gamecocks holding on to take a lead into the locker room for the ninth time in as many games. Mitchell was the offense early as she had a 5-0 lead on Charlotte early in the game. Both teams were called for a number of charges early before finally getting on track. After the Gamecocks took a 12-8 lead on a hook shot from Ibiam with 13:37 left in the half, the 49ers enjoyed at 6-0 run to take their first lead of the game thanks to good work on the defensive glass.

Ibiam hit from the right block to tie the score, and the teams traded the lead before Mitchell hit both ends of a one-and-one opportunity to put the Gamecocks back up 18-16 with 11:11 to go in the period. Wilka Montout stretched out the 9-2 run with a 3 from the left wing, and Mitchell and Asia Dozier added driving layups as the Gamecocks established a 25-18 advantage with 7:23 to go before the break. The 49ers responded, though, with a 8-2 spurt that cut the lead to two at 27-25. Ibiam and Dozier combined to push the lead back to six, but again Charlotte had the answer scoring the final two baskets of the period, including a 3-pointer that made it a 33-32 South Carolina at the break.

The second half started much like the first with the Gamecocks staking out a 39-35 lead, only to see the 49ers chip away and re-claim the lead, 42-40, with a 3-pointer off great ball movement against the Gamecock zone and a jumper at the shot clock buzzer from Tori Carter. The Gamecocks answered with Ibiam, but Charlotte was keeping pace, going up 46-44 on a Carter runner with 13:24 to play.

After sitting for most of the first half with two fouls, Welch announced her presence by scoring the Gamecocks’ next eight points while the entire team crashed the defensive boards to establish the first double-digit advantage of the game.

Dozier swiped one of her two steals in the game to set up a Welch three-point play that put the Gamecocks up 49-48, and the flood gates were opened. Wlech hit another free throw and, after being fouled going up for a putback, Alaina Coates added two more. Dozier cleaned up another 49er miss and took it the length of the floor for a 56-48 lead with 9:31 to play. Both teams misfired on their next possession, and Charlotte stayed alive with a series of offensive rebounds, the last ending in a runner by Lefty Webster. Welch immediately answered with a baseline drive, and Dozier turned the junior forward’s defensive rebound into a quick bucket on the other end to make it a 60-50 game with 5:55 to play.

The surge and Welch’s energy seemed to break the 49ers’ spirit, and the Gamecocks pushed on for their ninth double-digit victory of the season. South Carolina shot 63.6 percent in the second half after struggling in the first. Ibiam led four Gamecocks in double figures, tying her career high with 19 points. Welch’s 18 joined Mitchell’s 15 and Dozier’s 10 off the bench. Ibiam narrowly missed a double-double with nine boards and added three blocks to the defensive effort. Dozier and Mitchell tied for team-high honors with four assists each.

South Carolina takes a 10-day break for exams, returning to action in the Carolina’s Challenge in Myrtle Beach, S.C., taking on No. 18/16 North Carolina on Wed., Dec. 18, at 7 p.m.