Friday, December 5, 2014

Staley Wins 300th Career Game as Gamecocks Defeat 49ers

Entering last night's contest with Charlotte, Dawn Staley had 299 career wins as a head coach, 127 of which had come at the University of South Carolina.    There was little doubt that she would get her milestone Thursday evening at Colonial Life Arena as her #1 ranked team faced a 49ers team that entered the contest having lost five straight games.  The surprise came in the effort of Charlotte.

As per usual, the Gamecocks wanted to use their height advantage and looked to score inside right from the tip-off.  Center Ibiam Elem was fouled in the act of shooting and hit her two free throws for the first two points of the game.  The 49ers responded with an unusual game plan, go inside on the taller Gamecocks front line,  Charlotte forward Olivia Rankin, a player who only averages four points per game, matched her season average quickly with two straight baskets off post plays and the 49ers took a 4-2 lead.

South Carolina responded with six straight points.  Elem was responsible for four of those points and her jumper, which gave her six early points, put the Gamecocks up 8-4.   The Gamecocks would slowly extend the lead to five, 16-11 on an A'ja Wilson jumper with about fourteen minutes left in the half.

Charlotte answered back, outscoring South Carolina 8-2 over the next two minutes.  The 49ers leading scorer on the season, Lefty Webster would score six of the eight 49ers points in that spurt.  Her jumper gave Charlotte a 19-18 lead.

South Carolina tied the game on an Alaina Coates free throw, then regained the lead for good with a Tina Roy three pointer.   The Gamecocks would extend their lead to five, 26-21 on two more free throws by Coates.   However, Charlotte refused to go away as their second leading scorer on the season, Hilary Sigmon nailed a three pointer and with about seven and a half minutes left in the first half, the score was 26-24 South Carolina.

For twelve and a half minutes, the Gamecocks were in a battle with the 49ers.  But as shown throughout the season, South Carolina was capable of huge runs at any time.  The time finally came with 7:38 left in the half.

The Gamecocks would outscore the 49ers 20-2 over the next seven minutes and 37 seconds. Tiffany Mitchell, the SEC Player of the Year and Gamecocks' leading scorer, would score seven of those points, including at three pointer to make the score 44-26.  The run was highlighted though by a sweet no-look pass from Bianca Cuevas to Wilson for a layup.  Coates would cap the run with a layup to make the score 46-26.

But just as it looked like the Gamecocks would enter the locker room up twenty at the half, Cuevas inexplicably fouled Charlotte's Ayanna Holmes.  Holmes would hit two free throws and we went to the half with South Carolina up 46-28.

At the start of the second half, everyone figured that the Gamecocks would continue right where they left off from at the end of the first half and put the 49ers away.  Charlotte had other ideas.

The 49ers would hit on all of their first six field goal attempts in the second half.   Webster, who was a thorn in the Gamecocks' side the entire game, nailed another jumper to cut the Gamecocks lead to thirteen, 55-42 with fifteen minutes left in the half.   A team that had lost five straight games and had lost their most recent game in a tournament in Mexico to Princeton by thirty points, was fighting tooth and nail with the #1 team in the country for twenty five minutes.

But the height differential between the 49ers and the Gamecocks proved to be too much in the end. Despite their early second half offensive flurry, Charlotte could not keep South Carolina from scoring inside.  Eventually the Gamecocks started pulling away, going up by as many as twenty five points several times, the last being 82-57 before Charlotte scored the last four points to make the final 82-61 and give Staley her 300th career game.

The Gamecocks again showed the balanced scoring that is going to make them very difficult to beat this season.  Six players scored between nine and seventeen points for the Gamecocks.  The freshman Wilson led the way with seventeen points off the bench and Coates came off the bench as well to score fifteen points, The Gamecocks had a 41-8 advantage on bench points. Ibiam scored sixteen points and Welch had ten points, as South Carolina outscored Charlotte 46-20 in the paint. Mitchell and Tina Roy each had nine points for the Gamecocks, who shot fifty five percent from the field.

Charlotte, a WNIT team last season, had to be proud of the fact that they had the highest field goal percentage of any team that has faced South Carolina this season.  The 49ers shot forty five percent from the field for the game and fifty four percent from the field in the second half.  No team had shot higher than thirty eight percent against the Gamecocks coming into the game.  Webster led the 49ers with seventeen points and Sigmon, who was a perfect 3 for 3 from beyond the arc, added thirteen points.

South Carolina now faces their most difficult road game of the season, a matchup with #8 Duke at Cameron Indoor Stadium on the campus of Duke.  Having been there two years ago for an Iona -Duke women's basketball game, I can tell you that place will be really loud on Sunday.   But if the Gamecocks show the balance they did last night and get good three point shooting from Mitchell and Roy,  South Carolina will get Staley her 301st victory.

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