It's better to win ugly than lose pretty. Three days after looking good for the most part in a 71-56 loss to Tennessee, Sunday's game against Alabama resembled more of a high school basketball game than an SEC conference game. The result was better for the Gamecocks as they held on for a 59-48 win despite shooting just 36% from the field and turning the ball over 20 times that led to 17 Alabama points.
"That's our team," Gamecock head coach Dawn Staley said after the game. "It wasn't Tennessee (so) of course there was going to be some kind of let down. You're not going to have the 'Tennessee effect' every time you step out on the court. We're playing very good basketball teams. Alabama really hasn't gotten off to a good start in the SEC, but they're a very formidable opponent. They're stronger then they look."
Ieasia Walker led all scorers with 16 points, Markeshia Grant had career highs in both points and rebounds - 14 points and six rebounds - Jewel May had her second career double-double with 11 points and 11 rebounds, and La'Keisha Sutton had five assists to lead the Gamecocks offensively.
"I guess tonight was just a good night for rebounding," May said. "The coaches have been coaching on me just taking my time, so I tried to relax."
After Bama's Ericka Russell scored on the opening possession, the Tide would go three minutes before scoring again. Valerie Nainima nailed a three-pointer to get the Gamecocks on the board a minute and a half in and Ieasia Walker scored on the next possession to give the Gamecocks an early 5-2 lead. The Gamecocks would go on a three minute scoring drought of their own as Bama took a 6-5 lead five minutes into the game. Ieasia Walker scored on a putback on the next Gamecock possession as the Gamecocks took the lead for good. A three-point play by La'Keisha Sutton gave the Gamecocks a little breathing room. A Walker free throw followed by a Walker basket gave the Gamecocks a 17-9 lead with eight minutes left in the half.
The Tide got back to within three before an Ashly Bruner three-point play gave the Gamecocks a 20-14 lead as the two teams would combine for 27 points in a four minute stretch towards the end of the first half. After a pair of LaToya King free throws, Grant nailed her first three-pointer of the game and Walker hit one of her own the next time down the court. After a Bruner jumper, Grant drained her second three-pointer of the half as the Gamecocks took a 33-25 lead into the locker room.
After coming up empty on their first trip to open the second half, Alabama would score on their next four possessions - including a King three-point play - to trim the Gamecock lead to 37-34.
It was at that point that Staley decided to switch to a 2-3 zone to try and slow down the Tide offense, and it worked as the Tide would struggle to get off good shots the rest of the game.
"We saw in film that switching to a zone really slows their offense down, so we practiced zone this week and I guess she (Staley) felt confident enough that we could slow them down with that," May said.
After the two teams traded a basket, baskets by May, Grant and Walker, along with a free throw from Bruner stretched the lead back to 10, 46-36, nine minutes into the second half. Bama had a chance to get withing 49-43 with just over two minutes remaining in the game, but a traveling violation on an uncontested layup took those two points off the board and it remained a 49-41 Gamecock lead. It would turn into a four point swing as Grant hit a jumper on the next Gamecock possession for a 51-41 lead and the Tide would not be able to pose a serious threat the remainder of the game.
"I think that's been our team struggle all year long - we don't have a good balance of taking our kind of shots and driving to the basket," Staley said. "As we get good at recognizing that, I think we will be able to score a little bit more and put more pressure on our opponent's defense."
Carolina, now 11-9 (3-4 SEC), returns to action Thursday night to close out the homestand against Georgia. The Gamecocks lost to Georgia earlier this season in Athens, 61-51, despite overcoming a 40-17 halftime deficit. The Gamecocks will need a better start if they hope to knock off the Dawgs in a game they really need to win.
"When we don't play well it's probably what we're doing from an offensive standpoint - not scoring, not driving to the basket, just relying on outside shots," Staley said.
Tip is set for 7:00 P.M.
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