Newton, Gamecocks Take Out Dawgs

Courtney Newton scores a season-high 16 points to lead the Gamecocks to a stunning victory over #20/24 Georgia Thursday night at the Colonial Life Arena. It was the first victory over a ranked opponent for the Gamecocks and was the Bulldogs' first conference loss.

Entering Thursday night's game against #20/24 Georgia, South Carolina's Courtney Newton had scored 13 points in the 2010-11 season. On the strength of 5-for-5 shooting from three-point range, Newton scored 16 points to lead all scorers and help lead the Gamecocks to a surprising 57-48 victory over the Bulldogs. Carolina improved to 12-9, 4-4 SEC and Georgia fell to 16-4, 6-1 SEC.

"It did surprise me," South Carolina head coach Dawn Staley said. "She's been playing well from a defensive standpoint. I think the basketball gods were good to her today. Every shot that she put up seemed to go in."

Georgia head coach Andy Landers wasn't near as surprised as Staley was of Newton's performance.

"We didn't - I can tell you for sure - consider her an unlikely source (of scoring)," Landers said. "What's difficult is when a team gets over 25% of their points on five shots by the same person. Two of those we were playing about as well as we could play it and she still got the three. She is a very good three-point shooter. We did not want her shooting three's."

Newton got her first opportunity from well behind the three-point line at the top of the key late in the first half. She swished it on her only shot attempt of the half to tie the game at 21-21 with 2:27 remaining in the half as the Gamecocks took a 25-23 lead into the locker room after an Ieasia Walker three-pointer with 35 seconds remaining in the half.

"As a shooter, when you make your first one you definitely get a little bit of confidence," Newton said. "When I hit the second one I just wasn't thinking about it from then on out. Definitely hitting the first shot as a shooter helps."

It didn't take Newton long to get started in the second half. After connecting on 1-of-2 free throws to open the half, Newton found her self open on the right elbow in front of the Gamecock bench. She nailed it as she fell back towards the bench to give the Gamecocks a 29-25 lead.

Three minutes later Newton got the ball in the left corner and drained it again for her 10th point of the night to give the Gamecocks a 34-31 lead. It was at that point that you just knew it was going to be a special night for Newton and you wondered if they were going to start to run plays designed specifically for Newton.

"It's not really my personality to demand the ball but I was just trying to find a spot on the floor and knock it down if I got the ball," Newton said.

Newton wasn't finished there. A three pointer from the right corner gave the Gamecocks a 41-35 lead at the 10-minute mark, and Newton finished her night with a three from the left elbow with 5:14 remaining to give the Gamecocks a 46-41 lead.

Even with Newton's heroics, the Gamecocks struggled to put the Bulldogs away. A Walker three-pointer with just over two minutes to play gave the Gamecocks a 51-44 lead and the breathing room they needed to put the game away as Walker, Valerie Nainima, and Sutton made all of their free throws to close out the game and give the Gamecocks that big win that they've been searching for this season.

"It does for a number of reasons," Staley said. "One, it avenges our loss because we played so poorly in the first half against Georgia (40-17 halftime deficit). Two, it's a top 25 win. Three, we're about to go on the road and play a couple of SEC opponents on the road so we have to find a way to have this kind of focus on the road."

Sutton added 12 for the Gamecocks and Ashley Bruner had 10 as eight of nine Gamecocks that entered the game scored. Walker finished with six points and six rebounds.

Still, tonight was all about #22. Coming off her fourth knee surgery that ended her 2009-10 season early, Newton fought her way back into the starting rotation.

"I'm really happy for her because she's worked," Staley said. "She's worked her tail off after having multiple surgeries and you want her to be able to see her work in the form of something tangible. Certainly a night like this is one she'll always remember."

"As a player you want to work hard and you want to be on the court and help your team win, so with all my injuries I just kept working hard and you want to contribute in a win and I'm glad I got to do that for my team," Newton said.

After going through one ACL surgery in high school, three more in college, and hip surgery to boot, it would be enough for anyone to think twice about ever playing. Not Newton.

"I love this sport and I want to play, so even through the injuries that was my mentality - to keep fighting," Newton said. "I knew if I kept fighting something good would turn out."

The Gamecocks return to action Sunday, traveling to the Plains to take on Auburn. They will then have a week off before traveling to Fayetteville to take on Arkansas on February 6th before returning home in two weeks to host Kentucky on the 10th of February.

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