USC Women Survive Scare At Florida, 52-44

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By Sports Department

GAINESVILLE, FLA. (USC SID) -- No. 19/18 South Carolina survived a late surge by Florida to claim a 52-44 win over the Gators Sunday afternoon at the Stephen C. O’Connell Center. The Gamecocks (16-3, 4-2 SEC) captured the road victory behind 59 rebounds, the most during head coach Dawn Staley’s tenure, and a defensive effort that held Florida to just 17 field goals. While the starters were strong, South Carolina got huge contributions off the bench in the form of 15 points from Khadijah Sessions and a pair of blocked shots late from Elem Ibiam that kept Florida from completing its comeback.

The first half was physical, especially inside as both teams were determined to get to the basket. Ashley Bruner got the scoring going early for the Gamecocks, hitting the team’s first two baskets, and Tiffany Mitchell put South Carolina on top 6-4 with a runner in transition five minutes into the contest. While the Gamecocks suffered through a three-minute scoring drought from there, the South Carolina defense had the Gators mired in a five-minute scoreless stretch that allowed the lead to expand to 12-4 behind a pair of 3-pointers from Khadijah Sessions.

Florida hit a basket with 10:31 left in the period, but South Carolina netted the next five points thanks to three trips to the free throw line and an Ieasia Walker jumper from the left baseline for a 17-6 edge. Both teams crashed the boards relentlessly, and offensive rhythm was hard to come by late in the half. After Florida’s Kayla Lewis hit a jumper in the lane, South Carolina called time out with 1:34 left in the half and thanks to three offensive rebounds closed the half with a 24-17 advantage.

The second half started with Florida attacking the rim and finally finding success there. The Gators tied the game 35-35 with 12:10 left, but the Gamecocks answered with a 10-0 run that included a series of blocks from Elem Ibiam. Sessions hit another 3 to get the surge going, and after an offensive rebound, Bruner drove the baseline for a basket. Welch completed a traditional three-point play on the next possession, and a defensive rebound let Bruner run out for a transition layup to make it 45-35 with 9:36 to play.

Once again, the Gators clawed back behind drives to the basket while the Gamecocks struggled from the free throw line, leading to a nine-minute scoreless stretch. But the defense managed to turn back Florida when it mattered most. After closing to 42-45 with 3:06 on the clock, Florida saw the Gamecocks clean up back-to-back missed 3-pointers. South Carolina was charged with an offensive foul with under a minute to go, but again an errant 3-pointer found its way to a Gamecock to end the possession.

The Gators began sending the Gamecocks to the free throw line, but to no avail. Bruner missed the second of her attempts, but Aleighsa Welch soared in for the rebound to extend the possession in the final minute. Mitchell’s pair of free throws all but sealed the game with a five-point lead and just 15 seconds to play.

Welch and Mitchell each grabbed double-digit rebounds, reeling in 12 and 11, respectively. Eight of Welch’s came on the offensive end to tie her career high. Bruner finished the night with 14 points and nine rebounds in the victory.

The Gamecocks return to Colonial Life Arena for a 7 p.m. game against No. 5/5 Kentucky on Thu., Jan. 24. South Carolina will celebrate the SEC’s “We Back Pat” initiative at the game.

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