Lady Gamecocks defeat Ole Miss, 64-50

In the SEC, home-court advantage is key. No two teams epitomize that more than South Carolina and Mississippi. The Gamecocks entered Thursday night's game against the Rebels with a 6-1 record at home, while the Rebels' lone loss came in their only road game at Vanderbilt. The trend continued for both teams with the Gamecocks picking up a huge win, 64-50, at the Colonial Life Arena.

With the win, Carolina improves to 11-9 on the season. More importantly, the Gamecocks moved back to .500 in the conference, 4-4, at the midway point to keep postseason hopes alive. Ole Miss falls to 14-6 overall and 5-2.

South Carolina was in control from the beginning, using balanced scoring and strong defensive play to pick up the victory. Valerie Nainima led the scoring with 17 points, including five 3-pointers. La'Keisha Sutton added 13 points, Charenee Stephens had 12, and Kelsey Bone had 11. The Gamecocks limited the Rebels to 38% shooting, and held Ole Miss' Bianca Thomas to just 8 points, nearly 14 points shy of her 21.8 average for the season.

"Keisha did a really good job pestering her all night," Bone said of Sutton's assignment of guarding Thomas.

Coach Dawn Staley said Sutton enjoys guarding the opponent's best player. "She was really focused for this game – she really gets up for the opponent's top scorer," she said. "She came in today to watch a little more film to see how she could limit (Thomas') touches. Our game plan for her was to play both sides of the basketball. She's got to play offense and defense so her shot wouldn't be as fresh, and she got in foul trouble early, which helped our cause."

After a Kayla Melson jumper gave Ole Miss a 2-0 lead on Ole Miss' opening possession, Nainima answered with her first 3-pointer of the game to give Carolina the lead at 3-2. The teams would trade baskets until Bone hit back-to-back jumpers and Sutton added another to give Carolina an 11-6 lead. A 3-pointer from Elizabeth Robertson and a basket by Nikki Byrd quickly tied the game at 11-11. From there, it was all South Carolina. Back-to-back baskets by Stephens gave Carolina a 15-11 lead. A few minutes later, Sutton drained a 3-pointer to give the Gamecocks a 20-13 lead midway through the half. Ole Miss got it to 20-17, but a 9-2 run to close the first half gave the Gamecocks a 29-19 lead heading to the locker room.

In the second half, the Gamecocks would try and run away with it. The 9-2 run to end the first half was part of a larger run of 23-8 to give the Gamecocks a 45-25 lead, the largest of the game. However, Ole Miss would not go away quietly. The Rebels answered with a 13-2 run of their own to pull within single digits, 47-38, with just over 8 minutes to go. Ole Miss eventually got the lead down to 8 with 3 minutes remaining, but could not score again as the Gamecocks scored the game's final 6 points to give them the 64-50 win.

A strong start was key for the Gamecocks to pick up the victory.

"We had to come out and start better than we've been known to start," said Bone. "We didn't want to start out with a deficit and then have to fight our way back for the rest of the game."

The Gamecocks will return to action Sunday afternoon to host the SEC leading, 5th ranked Tennessee Lady Vols. Thanks to a dominating win over Auburn and South Carolina's victory over Ole Miss, the Vols now sit alone atop the SEC standings at 6-1. Staley hopes there's still a little bit of magic left in air Sunday afternoon.

"Hopefully, we can get some of that magic that was in here on Tuesday night and do the unthinkable. If we can get that one – the sky is the limit."

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