Hightower Leads #11 LSU Past Lady Gamecocks

LSU guard Allison Hightower entered her senior season as the preseason SEC Player of the Year. In Sunday's conference opener at the Colonial Life Arena, she showed why she deserves such honors. Hightower led all scorers with 23 points while playing all 40 minutes as the Lady Tigers (12-1, 1-0) defeated USC (7-6, 0-1), 70-58. The win is the 13th straight for the Lady Tigers over the Gamecocks.

After getting off to a strong start, leading 9-6, South Carolina quickly fell into familiar territory. Cold shooting and turnovers erased any momentum the Gamecocks earned in the first 5 minutes as LSU went on a 32-6 run to build what would prove to be an insurmountable 23-point lead late in the first half before settling for a 42-28 halftime lead.

"I don't know why but we always have to play from behind," South Carolina head coach Dawn Staley said. "Maybe we just need to open the floor up a little bit better and press a little bit sooner. Sometimes when you play against fast teams, you find yourself playing from behind playing that way as well. We'll figure it out. We're in a constant battle to figure out what works and what doesn't work with a young basketball team."

Freshman sensation Kelsey Bone had an interesting perspective on the slow starts.

"I think that you prepare so tough and hard against each other in practice and in our minds it's there. But it's a totally different ball game when you play against these ranked teams and when you have these All-American players on the floor. It's not the same as practice so it takes us a minute to understand what we are really up against and then the game plan starts to kick in for us."

When a team is struggling to put the ball in the basket, it doesn't help when their leading scorer is placed in unfamiliar territory. That's what happened to guard Valerie Nainima. Nainima, who averages near 20 points per game, was in foul trouble all night and picked up her 4th foul only four minutes into the second half.

"It was hard and I had to adjust my mindset because I had never been in that situation before," Nainima said. "I just tried to stay in the game, and when I was on the bench I tried to encourage the team."

In the second half, South Carolina showed the toughness that Coach Staley is instilling into them. With the Gamecocks still trailing by 14 nearing the half-way mark of the second half, Nainima came off the bench and scored 5 consecutive points to trim the lead to single digits for the first time in nearly 20 minutes of game time at 52-43. After a pair of Hightower free throws, Charenee Stephens hit a jumper to bring the Gamecocks back to within nine That would be the closest the Gamecocks would get, as the Lady Tigers went on a 9-2 run to end any hopes of a comeback.

Nainima led the Gamecocks in scoring with 13 points. Kelsey Bone came up 1 point shy of a double-double, finishing with 9 points and 12 rebounds. All 10 players on the active roster scored.

Staley, while happy the team seems to be making progress, thinks they can still do a little better.

"I don't know if we are close to a team like LSU, but we're getting better for us. We just have to find a way to even the playing field when we go up against a team that is that talented and improved from last year. We have to work hard. We don't work hard every possession, and that's what kills us. We have to scrap for 40 minutes. We tell our team all the time that they can't have mental lapses. We have to out-work people and we're not doing that."

LSU coach Van Chancellor is impressed with the progress that Staley, his former Olympic guard, is making at South Carolina.

"I really do think South Carolina has a good team. I've said it before that I think South Carolina is one of our most improved teams in our league. Dawn's got this program on the absolute right track and the fast track."

Things will get harder before it gets easier for South Carolina. The Gamecocks will travel to Knoxville Thursday night for a match-up with top 5 Tennessee, a team Carolina has only beaten once in 39 games.

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