Late collapse costs Lady Gamecocks
An obviously upset Valerie Nainima said following the game that this one hurt more than previous losses.
"It does hurt worse [than the Mississippi State game] because we were up really big and they kept playing and we just laid down," the junior guard said after the game. "Coach [Dawn] Staley told us in the locker room that we laid down dead for them."
"We had control of the game, and we just played not to lose," Staley said. "Arkansas continued to play and fight and found themselves on the winning end of the stick. It was quite clear that they wanted it more than we did, and they played like it."
The Gamecocks came out and quickly took control. A Nainima 3-pointer on the first possession, followed by a traditional 3-point play by Nainima on the second possession gave the Gamecocks a 6-0 lead. A Kelsey Bone lay-up made it 8-0 before Lyndsay Harris hit a 3-pointer to get the Razorbacks on the board. The Gamecocks would go on a 17-5 run to extend the lead to 25-8. A Lauren Falohun basket with just under 2 minutes left in the half would push the lead to 18 at 35-17, but the Razorbacks would score the last two baskets to cut the lead to 35-21 at the half.
Arkansas would score the first 4 points of the second half to cut the lead to 10. Another traditional 3-point play and jumper for Nainima pushed the lead to 40-25. Arkansas made several runs to get back in the game, but Carolina would answer each time and extend the lead. A Nainima free throw and basket would give the Gamecocks a seemingly commanding 61-43 lead with 8:28 left in the game.
From that point on it seemed like the two teams traded uniforms. The Razorbacks were more aggressive, quicker, and just seemed to want it more than the Gamecocks. South Carolina turned the ball over 5 times with Arkansas turning all of them into points(3 on steals and lay-ups by Charity Ford). Arkansas went 10-11 from the field and 7-7 from the line during the run.
The run started innocently enough. Quistelle Williams made a lay-up and Sarah Watkins hit a jumper to cut it to 61-47. Ford got the first of her steals and lay-ups to make it 61-49 before Charenee Stephens answered with a basket making it 63-49. Harris hit back-to-back 3-pointers with the second literally stopping on the back of the rim before finally rolling in to cut the lead to single-digits at 63-55. You could say that was an omen of things to come. Ford came away with another steal and lay-up to make it 63-57 with 5:21 left. After a Nainima missed 3-pointer, Watkins beat Kelsey Bone down the court to receive the ball and lay it in to cut the lead to 4. After a Bone miss, it was Ricketts who got around her defender and beat the rest of the defense to the basket to make it 63-61. Ford's 3rd steal and lay-up during the run tied it for the first time at 63-63, forcing Staley to use her second timeout of the run.
After another missed shot, Jewel May fouled Williams at the other end with 3 minutes remaining. Williams made both free throws, giving the Razorbacks their first lead of the game, 65-63. After Nainima missed a shot, Samone Kennedy got the rebound and missed before Bone grabbed it and put it in to tie the game at 65-65. After an Arkansas turnover, Nainima found Kennedy open in the corner for a 3-pointer to give the Gamecocks a 68-65 lead with just over a minute left in the game. After each team missed a shot, Arkansas' Watkins was fouled and sent to the line with 20 seconds left. Watkins hit both, cutting the lead to 68-67. After Carolina got the ball in to Nainima, she was fouled hard and sent to the floor with 16 seconds remaining. Nainima, a 77% free throw shooter, missed the front end and Ford came away with the rebound. Watkins again beat Bone down the court and scored as Bone fouled her with only 6 seconds remaining. She made the free throw to give Arkansas a 70-68 lead and the Razorbacks called a 30 second timeout.
Nainima received the in-bounds pass and drove down the court. As she beat her man around half-court, Ricketts came over and swatted the ball away as Nainima went to the floor. Harris dove on the ball and called timeout with just 2.9 seconds left.
"I knew I went past my initial defender," Nainima said of the final play. "I think it was number 22 [Ricketts] who came up and stole the ball from me. It was just a turnover on my part, which was really crucial to the game."
After the timeout, Ford was fouled and sent to the line with 1.4 seconds remaining. She hit both to give the Razorbacks the 72-68 win.
"We just don't have a leader that understands that when it's time to bear down and play, to get the team together and play," Staley said. "It's got to come from our point guards. If they're not doing their jobs, then we can't win a lot of basketball games this way or in close ones. I didn't think we got good point guard play as far as leading, and that's been our struggle all season long. But it is a work in progress and until someone is able to step and be that leader, regardless of whether they're playing well or not, we're going to end up having games like this."
Nainima led all scorers with 16 points, but was only 1-6 from behind the arc. Stephens scored 14 coming off the bench, and Bone had a double-double with 12 points and 12 rebounds. Ford, Harris, and Watkins all scored 14 for the Razorbacks, with Williams adding 13 and Ricketts 12.
The Gamecocks will have the week off to try and right the ship before traveling up to Lexington next Sunday to take on the Kentucky Wildcats. It appears that the only chance the Gamecocks now have of making the NCAA Tournament is to go down to Duluth, Ga. and win the SEC Tournament.
"As far as I'm concerned, we're not in," Staley said of the NCAA hopes. "This game probably does us in. We don't have a shot at it."
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