Gamecocks cruise past Alabama in SEC opener

No. 6 seed USC plays No. 3 seed Georgia on Friday night

ashain@thestate.comMarch 2, 2012 

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No. 25 South Carolina had little trouble with Alabama to win its opening-game of the SEC tournament 57-38 on Thursday night.

The Gamecocks, the tournament’s sixth seed, defeated the 11th-seed Tide for a third time this season by getting 21 points from 22 Alabama turnovers.

USC (22-8, 10-6) also did well at one area where it has struggled -- at the line. The nation’s worst free-throw shooting team at 57 percent went 18-for-24 for 75 percent against Alabama.

South Carolina won despite shooting 33 percent for the game and committing 16 turnovers -- which head coach Dawn Staley said need to be better when the Gamecocks play the third-seed Georgia (22-7, 11-5) in the quarterfinals at 10 p.m. Friday.

Staley is looking for a different game than when USC lost to the No. 16 Bulldogs in Columbia, 61-59, two weeks ago.

“I hope it’s just like tonight,” she said.

The Tide’s 38 points were their lowest of the season and the lowest the Gamecocks allowed in the SEC this year, which also came against Alabama. South Carolina has the nation’s fourth best scoring defense -- holding teams to less than 50 points a game.

USC’s top two scorers shined. Guard La’Keisha Sutton led South Carolina in scoring for a fifth-straight game with 15 points. Guard Markeshia Grant added 10 points. They also combined to go 11-for-11 from the free-throw line.

The Gamecocks went on a 22-4 run to take a 32-14 halftime lead -- despite going 10 minutes without a field goal. The Tide had one stretch where they committed nine turnovers in 13 possessions.

The second half was sloppy with both teams shooting around 30 percent. Alabama (12-19, 2-12) could not close the gap with USC’s defensive pressure, which Staley thought could have been sharper.

“It seems like it’s been off for awhile,” she said.

South Carolina has beaten Alabama by an average of 20 points in three wins this year -- the first time the Gamecocks have beaten a SEC foe three times in a season.

With USC building a 20-point lead midway through the second half, Staley was able to rest her starters for games that will be played on consecutive nights. Every player on the roster got minutes, including walk-on Imani Sellers, who scored six points.

“It’s always a great thing, especially in this tournament format where, to win it, we’ll have to win four in a row,” Staley said.

Thursday’s win marks the fifth time in South Carolina’s 21 seasons in the league that the Gamecocks made it past the first round of the SEC tournament. South Carolina has never reached the semifinals.

Forward Aleighsa Welch, who came back after missing two games with a sprained knee, said USC cannot trade baskets with Georgia, which beat the Gamecocks with a pair of free throws with 12 seconds left.

“When you’re trading buckets, you never know who’s coming out on top and normally it’s the last person who scores is going be the person who win, which is exactly what happened,” she said.

South Carolina joined three other higher seeds -- Florida, Vanderbilt and Arkansas -- that all won Thursday.

But they face a tough road ahead to win the league tournament title. Five teams that played on the tournament’s opening day have reached the finals in 20 years - and just two have won.

“We’re here for the long haul,” Staley said.

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ALABAMA (12-19)

Crosby 4-9 2-5 10, Robinson 4-7 2-2 11, Perkins 1-5 3-4 5, Lee 0-2 0-2 0, Merritt 1-9 0-0 2, Daniels 3-10 0-0 6, Farmer 0-2 2-2 2, Myers 1-9 0-0 2. Totals 14-53 9-15 38.<

SOUTH CAROLINA (22-8)

Stephens 1-2 0-0 2, Newton 0-0 0-0 0, Walker 0-6 0-0 0, Grant 3-7 4-4 10, Sutton 4-11 7-7 15, Sellers 2-2 1-2 6, Wilson 1-2 0-0 2, White 1-4 2-4 4, Bruner 1-4 1-2 3, Roy 2-7 1-2 7, Welch 0-2 0-0 0, Decheva 1-2 0-0 2, Ibiam 2-6 2-3 6. Totals 18-55 18-24 57.<

Halftime: South Carolina 32-14. 3-Point Goals: Alabama 1-8 (Robinson 1-2, Merritt 0-2, Myers 0-4), South Carolina 3-12 (Roy 2-5, Sellers 1-1, Grant 0-1, Decheva 0-1, Sutton 0-1, Walker 0-1, White 0-2). Fouled Out: None. Rebounds: Alabama 40 (Crosby 8), South Carolina 42 (Stephens, Welch 5). Assists: Alabama 1 (Lee 1), South Carolina 9 (Bruner, Roy, White 2). Total Fouls: Alabama 17, South Carolina 14. Attendance: 3,919.

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