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Feb. 16, 2014

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BATON ROUGE, La. – No. 5/6 South Carolina rose to every challenge in a 73-57 win at No 19/17 LSU Sunday afternoon with junior Aleighsa Welch and sophomore Tiffany Mitchell pouring in 19 points each to lead the offensive effort. The Gamecocks (23-2, 11-1 SEC) shot 57.9 percent in the second half to hold off the Lady Tigers (18-7, 7-5 SEC), who fought to ride the momentum of their home crowd to get ahead. Each time they drew too close, though, Welch answered, then let her teammates seal the win from the free throw line.

It took nearly the entire first half for the Gamecocks to get their offense fully unfurled, but they had enough to keep pace until the 3:18 mark. From there, Welch sparked a 13-2 surge to close the half that gave South Carolina an eight-point lead at the break.

Shooting was a struggle for both teams early as they tested each other’s defenses to see what was available. Welch and Tiffany Mitchell kept the Gamecock offense going early, while Tina Roy stepped up with a big 3 to answer one from LSU, putting the Gamecocks up 12-11 with 12:43 left in the half. The teams traded baskets slowly over the next eight minutes until LSU’s Theresa Plaisance tied it up for the fourth time with a layup with 4:49 on the clock. She added a 3 in secondary transition 38 seconds later to put the Lady Tigers up 22-19.

As she has done every time the Gamecocks have needed a lift this season, Welch delivered. Elem Ibiam snagged an offensive rebound, and Welch drove the baseline for a bucket to bring South Carolina within one. The Lady Tigers were one and done on the other end as Alaina Coates reeled one of her four rebounds in the first half and started a break that Mitchell found Welch to finish off and put the Gamecocks back on top 23-22. Another misfire on the other end put South Carolina back on offense, and Welch converted a traditional three-point play to stretch out the advantage.

On the next trip up the floor, LSU couldn’t connect on a pair of chances, and Roy made them pay with a 3 at the end of the shot clock for a seven-point Gamecock lead with just over 90 seconds to play. Rina Hill hit a pair of free throws, but the Gamecocks finished the half with a 3-pointer from Sessions to take a 32-24 lead into the locker room.

The Lady Tigers were the early aggressors in the second half, scoring six of the period’s first eight points to draw within 34-30 three minutes in, but the Gamecocks did not panic. LSU drew within two when Jeanne Kenney banked in a 3 from the right wing to make it a 42-40 Gamecock lead with 11:35 to go in the game. South Carolina worked the ball around the perimeter of the zone until Mitchell found a seam to lead Coates to the basket to go back up 44-40. A double-team in the post forced a turnover on the Lady Tigers’ next possession, and Welch converted a pair of free throws to push the lead to six.

LSU got within two again behind back-to-back jump shots after a Gamecock turnover, but South Carolina’s inside game launched a 9-0 run that re-established a double-digit margin. Coates got it going with a bucket from the left side, then pulled down a defensive rebound to get the Gamecocks right back on offense. Mitchell hit a pair of free throws to make it a six-point game. LSU misfired on its next two possessions, and the Gamecocks cleaned up the defensive glass. Asia Dozier added a free throw, and Coates scored again underneath. After a pair of offensive rebounds, the Lady Tigers had the Gamecock defense scrambling. Quick hands by Roy came up with a steal that eventually led to a pair of free throws from Coates to make it a 55-44 game with 6:42 on the clock.

Just when it looked like the Lady Tigers had another run in them, Welch squashed it with a steel-eyed jumper from the free throw line to end it. LSU got within seven on a putback from Sheila Boykin, but Mitchell hit a pull-up jumper in traffic at the end of the shot clock to deflate the Lady Tigers. From there, a steady parade to the free throw line delivered the win as the Gamecocks hit 10-of-12 from the stripe in the final three minutes.

Coates joined Mitchell and Welch in double figures with 13 points, including nine in the second half, while leading the way on the glass with eight rebounds. Mitchell dished out seven assists to go with her 5-of-7 shooting that included 3-of-3 from 3-point range.

The Gamecocks continue their two-game road swing with a Thursday night tilt at No. 18/18 Kentucky. South Carolina is back at Colonial Life Arena for its final two home games of the season, beginning on Sun., Feb. 23, against Florida.