Roundup: Women's hoops loses to South Carolina
Published: Sunday, February 12, 2012 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Monday, February 13, 2012 at 12:07 a.m.
COLUMBIA, S.C. — South Carolina coach Dawn Staley's spent the past four seasons waiting for the Gamecocks' improved play to show up in the win column. That time looks like it's now.
The 24th-ranked Gamecocks built a 12-point lead, watched it all disappear yet hung on to defeat Florida 62-58 on Sunday night. Markeshia Grant scored 20 points, making five 3-pointers, and LaKeisha Sutton clinched the victory with a scoop shot and free throw in the final minute as South Carolina (19-6, 8-4 Southeastern Conference) achieved its highest win total so far in Staley's four seasons.
Staley, one of America's most accomplished basketball personalities with three Olympic gold medals as a player, expected her program to come together even quicker than it has. But Staley re-adjusted and is grateful to watch what's happening as her players grow.
“Everything is a process. For me just as a coach, I had to exert some patience,” Staley said. “They're learning how to win and I don't think that was always the case.”
This looked for much of the second half in a textbook lesson in how to lose. The Gamecocks were up 45-35 in the second half and were shooting past a Florida team struggling to make shots and hold on to the ball.
The Gators (16-9, 6-6) found their rhythm down the stretch and turned the one-time blowout into a nail-biter.
Deana Allen's bucket with 6:33 left tied things at 54-all and the Gamecocks were back on their heels. That's when Grant, a senior averaging 11 points a game, showed the growth her coach sought with her fifth three pointer with 5:02 remaining. Sutton followed with a pair of foul shots to extend the lead.
Florida rallied to 59-58 after Lanita Bartley's layup with 2:04 to go. Again, Sutton, a senior, stepped up with a one-handed scoop shot with 32.5 seconds left off an isolation play called “Chicago.”
Staley knew Sutton could score off the dribble and if she got fouled could make the shots.
“I just went in with the mindset that I was going to get the bucket,” Sutton said.
Florida had one last chance. But Lilly Svete's tying 3-pointer from the left corner missed and Bartley's short putback was also off the mark. Aleighsa Welch grabbed the rebound and passed it to Sutton, who was fouled and converted the clinching foul shot.
“I think we just stayed together,” Grant said. “We just focused in.”
No one was more focused than Grant, the 5-foot-6 guard nicknamed “Granny” for her slow pace everywhere but on the court. Grant made 5-of-6 shots from behind the arc.
She also added three rebounds and a block.
Tina Roy added 11 points and Ieasia Walker 10 for South Carolina.
Jennifer George had 17 points and 10 rebounds to lead Florida, which saw its three-game end. Allen had 14 points and Bartley 10 points and eight rebounds for the Gators.
“Thought we played a great second half, but you can't play a soft 20 minutes against a really good team on their home floor,” Florida coach Amanda Butler said.
South Carolina returned to the rankings this week after a landmark stretch of four straight wins capped by its first-ever win on Rocky Top, 64-60, over Tennessee on Feb. 2.
The Gamecocks, though, came out as flat as they had all year this past Thursday, trailing most of the way in their most lopsided loss of the year, 68-47, at Arkansas. Whatever coach Dawn Staley said to her Gamecocks the past couple of practices seemed to work.
South Carolina and Grant came out fast and on fire right from the start against the Gators.
Grant had two 3-pointers and Welch, a freshman making her first career start, had a putback bucket as the Gamecocks opened a 14-7 lead.
Grant's third 3 of the half midway through the period increased South Carolina's edge to 26-16.
Still, the Gators wouldn't let the Gamecocks get too far ahead and cut the margin to 33-27 on Bartley's two foul shots with 4:10 to go in the opening half. That's when South Carolina freshman Roy took over. She made two 3-pointers and scored eight of the team's last 10 points as the Gamecocks took a 43-33 lead into the break.
Florida finally got its attack going in the second half. Allen had four points, George two baskets and Jordan Jones a 3 to cut South Carolina's 10-point lead to 52-48.
Moments later, Allen's wide-open jumper tied the game at 54-all — and set things up for Grant's dramatic go-ahead three.
The Gators had their chances to pull ahead — Stewart was short on a drive to the basket that would've put Florida up for the first time since leading 2-0 — and were swept in a season series by the Gamecocks for the first time since South Carolina joined the SEC in 1992.
South Carolina, which shot 51.5 percent (17 of 33) in the opening half, cooled off by going 7 of 25 (28 percent) after halftime.
The Gamecocks have plenty of challenges left if they hope to reach Staley's goal of the NCAA tournament, something the program hasn't achieved since 2003. Their final four SEC games included ranked opponents in Georgia and Kentucky, plus Arkansas, which is the hottest team in the lead with an eight-game win streak.
Staley doesn't mind her players thinking bigger picture as they prepare for the closing stretch. “We've put ourselves in position to be talked about,” she said.
Both teams honored the late North Carolina State coach Kay Yow in the “Play4Kay” game. Florida wore pink uniforms and the Gamecocks pink socks. The coaching staffs wore plenty of pink and even the officials had pink whistles. The effort recognizes the legacy of Yow, who died of breast cancer in 2009.
UF TENNIS: Florida walked away from the first five games of the 2012 season unscathed, chalking up two more victories in Tampa on Sunday with a 3-2, eight-inning win over tournament-host USF, followed by a 5-0 victory over FGCU to wrap up the USF-Fairfield Inn & Suites Tampa North Tournament.
Sophomore righty Hannah Rogers improved to 4-0 on the season, earning both wins on Sunday with 11 strikeouts — two in the final 2.2 against USF — while posting nine strikeouts through a complete-game, three-hit shutout against FGCU.
Florida plays Jacksonville in its home opener on Wednesday at 5 p.m.
WOMEN'S TENNIS: The top-ranked Florida women's tennis team dropped a 5-2 decision at second-ranked Stanford on Sunday afternoon at Taube Family Tennis Center on the Stanford University campus.
The outing was a rematch of last year's NCAA Team Championship Final played at Stanford on May 24, when Florida beat the then-top-ranked Cardinal, 4-3, ending their NCAA-record 184-match home winning streak.
“We got beat by a better team today,” UF head coach Roland Thornqvist said.
MEN'S TENNIS: The fifth-ranked Florida men's tennis team defeated No. 18 Illinois, 6-1, at Linder Stadium at Ring Tennis Complex. The Gators won five of six singles matches, all in straight sets, to finish off the Fighting Illini.
With wins over Florida State and Illinois this weekend, Florida improved to 4-1 on the season before heading to the ITA National Indoors next weekend.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.