COLUMBIA, S.C. Feb. 26, 2012 – South Carolina closed its regular season with a 53-47 win over Arkansas, behind a defensive effort that shut down the Razorbacks’ leading scorer in the second half and a rebounding effort that yielded 18 of the 36 on the offensive glass. After celebrating their five seniors prior to tipoff, the Gamecocks (21-8, 10-6 SEC) trailed by as many as eight in the second half before senior guard La’Keisha Sutton hit a pull-up jumper to tie the game as part of her game-high 16 points. Fellow senior Charenee Stephens reeled in 11 rebounds, including six on the offensive end and eight total in the second half, to help hold Arkansas (21-7, 10-6) to just five field goals in the second half.
“These seniors have put themselves in a position to take this program to another level,” South Carolina head coach Dawn Staley said. “They have been through a 10-18 season, and it didn’t feel good. We all looked at things and wanted to turn it around. It took us committing to one another and committing to being a student-athlete in its totality. It all has to work together, and it takes some time to mature. These seniors have matured.”
Arkansas took a 28-26 lead into the locker room at halftime after using an 8-2 run to build a six-point lead with 2:46 to play. The Gamecocks fell behind early in the half as turnovers mounted. Courtney Newton’s 3-point from the left sideline and La’Keisha Sutton’s free throws knotted the game at 18-18 with 6:13 left in the period. The Razorbacks were relentless on their offensive glass over the next four minutes to surge ahead 26-20. Bruner scored twice from the left block, and Newton put back her own miss to cut the lead to two at the break.
The Razorbacks again surged ahead early in the second half. Despite aggressive defense by the Gamecocks, Arkansas found ways to score late in the shot clock and put together a 10-4 run to go up 38-30 just five minutes into the half. South Carolina answered with a 14-4 spurt that put it on top for the first time in the game.
Ieasia Walker kicked off the drive with a transition layup, during which she was fouled. She missed the resulting free throw, but Ashley Bruner sailed in for the rebound and stuck it back in to cut the Razorback advantage in half at 38-34. An Arkansas turnover set up another possession for South Carolina. A missed shot found Walker rising above the rest for the offensive rebound, which led to Charenee Stephens’ bucket from the right block. Quistelle Williams stretched the lead back to four with a bucket as the shot clock expired, but the Gamecocks kept up the pressure. Sutton drove in for a bucket then tied the score with a pull-up jumper at the free throw line. Walker rose up for a defensive rebound on the next Arkansas possession, and took it the full length of the court for a go-ahead layup with 10:02 on the clock.
Arkansas continued to nip at the heels of the Gamecocks, much as South Carolina had done to the Razorbacks throughout the first 30 minutes of the game. Rebounding sealed the win, however, as Bruner’s tough board and put-back stretched the lead to four at 50-46 with 5:25 to play. Stephens snagged key rebounds on both ends of the floor and scored a transition layup with Sutton came up with a rebound off a well-timed leap and found her classmate streaking up the court. With the Gamecocks up by five with 1:19 left, Stephens delivered a decisive block on a sure layup from C’eira Rickets, and Markeshia Grant sealed the win at the free throw line.
The win was South Carolina’s first on Senior Day since 2007 and gives the Gamecocks 21 regular-season wins for the first time since 2002-03. South Carolina closes its home season with a 12-3 mark, including a 6-2 record in SEC action.
Sutton’s 16 points and three assists led the offense, while Bruner finished the night with an impressive 15 points and eight rebounds, including six offensive. South Carolina shot 50.0 percent (13-of-26) in the second half while limiting the Razorbacks to just 5-of-24 in the final 20 minutes. The Gamecocks scored 42 of their 53 points in the paint and converted 19 points off 18 offensive rebounds.
The Gamecocks await their SEC Tournament seed, which hinges on the outcome of the LSU at Georgia game being played this evening.