WBB: Opportunity slips past Gamecocks

Talks of a chance of winning the SEC with just three games remaining in the season appeared to be in play with #25 South Carolina leading #18 Georgia most of the first half. In the end, everything slipped away in a 61-59 loss to the Lady Bulldogs Thursday night at the Colonial Life Arena.

The opportunity for a shot at the SEC Championship was there.

Ieasia Walker stepped to the line with 12.1 seconds left and calmly knocked down two free throws to tie the game between #25 South Carolina and #18 Georgia at 59-59.

Less than eight seconds later it all slipped away.

Georgia's Anne Marie Armstrong, a 75% free throw shooter, drove and was fouled – perhaps questionably – by Sancheon White with just 4.8 seconds left in the game.

"That one play doesn't determine us losing the game," La'Keisha Sutton said. "We win the game or lose the game so we can't use that one play as an excuse. He made the call and we had to go with it."

After mulling over it a few seconds, Gamecock head coach Dawn Staley took the high road on the controversial call.

"I couldn't see it," Staley said to dodge the question. "For us we had a foul to give so we shouldn't have put ourselves in that situation to even have it come that close to putting it in somebody else's hand. We tied the game up and we just needed a stop."

As Walker did for the Gamecocks, Armstrong swished both and Walker's three pointer around an Aleighsa Welch screen at the buzzer was short and the Bulldogs escaped with a 61-59 win in the only match-up of the season between the two schools. Georgia improved to 20-6 overall and 9-4 in the SEC. The Gamecocks dropped to 19-7 overall and 8-5 in conference play.

"I got the ball in the backcourt and wanted to get a clean look at a shot," Walker said of the final shot. "I had enough time to get a good shot off, it was just short. I should have put more air under it."

Georgia took the lead with 17:35 left in the game and led the rest of the way until Walker's two free throws that tied it. Carolina, who shot 16 three pointers in the first half, attempted just seven in the second half. Most of those came in the final minutes.

"We knew that half of our attempts where from three (in the first half) and we'd cool off in the second half," Staley said. "I thought we did a pretty good job of putting them back on their heels. We were in the bonus with eight minutes left and were in pretty good shape. It wasn't by design to not shoot three's."

Georgia took a 36-33 lead with a 7-0 spurt early in the second half and a 6-0 run minutes later would give the Dawgs a 44-37 lead and the Gamecocks would have to play catch-up the rest of the game. After Carolina cut the lead to 44-40, Georgia quickly stretched the lead back to eight. A Tina Roy three pointer cut the lead to 48-45, but again Georgia would quickly stretch the lead to 52-45. A Walker three pointer and jumper cut the lead to two and the two teams would trade baskets the rest of the way until Walker's two free throws to tie the game.

South Carolina jumped out to an early lead thanks to the long ball. Four of South Carolina first five baskets were via the three point shot. Grant hit her first two attempts and Sutton hit two of her first three attempts as the Gamecocks built an early 14-5 lead. That would also turn out to be Carolina's downfall in the half. 14 of Carolina's first 19 shots were from beyond the arc and only connected on five as Georgia clawed back to take a 23-21 behind a 14-5 run. Sutton, who scored 16 in the first half, would score the final 10 points for Carolina as they took a 31-29 lead into the locker room.

Grant, who started the game off on fire, scored nine points in the first half and did not score in the second half until hitting two of three free throws with 1:17 left to play.

"She wasn't shooting as freely as she normally does," Staley said. "Maybe we played Markeshia a little bit too much; she played the whole first half - maybe we need to give her a little blow - so she wasn't shooting as freely as she normally does."

Sutton finished with a game-high 20 points and Walker scored nine to go along with Grant's 11.

"I thought they played the zone so our offense wasn't as fluid," Staley said. "Keisha got some easy looks and she drove to the basket. We just weren't mixing it up as much as we needed to and driving to the basket and being aggressive."

Jasmine Hassell led the Lady Bulldogs offensively, scoring 18 points as Georgia outscored the Gamecocks 38-20 in the paint.

"We had problems with Jasmine Hassell tonight," Staley said. "She got too deep on us and we can't combat when post players have two feet in the paint and we're giving up several inches. I thought she did a tremendous job of making us pay. That's something that doesn't happen very often. We have to go back and look at and find ways where we can fix that."

A win would have set the Gamecocks up to have a shot at winning its first SEC regular season championship in program history. With Kentucky losing at Alabama and Arkansas falling to LSU at home, Carolina would have sat in sole possession of third place just one game behind Kentucky – who it still has to play – and Tennessee, whom they already beat. Instead, Carolina's hopes of winning the conference is gone, and it could see itself in a potential four-way tie for fourth place and outside the top four in the conference for the SEC Tournament.

This one slipped away.

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