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November 18, 2012
VIDEO: Dawn Staley
It was a win, and a rivalry win.
Dawn Staley will take it, even though it wasn't the prettiest one she's ever seen.
South Carolina did as expected on Sunday, bludgeoning an inexperienced and out-classed Clemson team 64-43, but Staley wasn't too happy despite the more-than-comfortable win. Simply, the Gamecocks (4-0) played so far outside of how they want to play that Staley couldn't feel that good.
Twenty-one turnovers. Another 0-for from the 3-point line. Freelancing with the ball instead of the approach that USC has to have in order to survive - pounding the paint and working underneath the rim.
The Gamecocks got 22 of their points from the free-throw line, a very pleasant surprise from a troublesome area, but they just didn't play that crisply. The stat sheet shows a fourth straight rout, over the archrival, and Staley's first 4-0 start at USC.
The game showed a sloppy performance that was won simply because the opponent is experiencing severe growing pains and cannot hit a basket. The Lady Tigers shot 23.9 percent from the field, getting 20 of their points from the stripe. Clemson has yet to shoot better than 31 percent from the field this season.
"It was really uncharacteristic of us to turn the ball over 21 times without really being pressured," Staley said. "It was an ugly game, it really was. But we'll take the win."
Ashley Bruner and Tiffany Mitchell each scored 16 points to lead the Gamecocks, Bruner doing her usual work inside and Mitchell, improving every game, driving to the rim. Ieasia Walker had nine points and Aleighsa Welch seven, while six players had at least five rebounds.
But after a spurt to leap ahead of the Tigers (0-3) in the game's beginning, USC was stymied by Clemson's defense. The taller, longer Lady Tigers began to spread out in the paint, depriving Welch and Bruner of their post-up comfort, and instead of becoming more physical, the Gamecocks accepted it.
Passes into the post were tipped and turned over. Back-to-the-basket shots became hurried and forced. The Gamecocks again dominated the boards, but weren't getting their usual amount of second-chance points.
"They started doubling, which caught me off guard a little, even though that was part of coach (Nikki) McCray's scout," Bruner said. "But once we figured it out, we started kicking to the weak side, which threw them off a little bit."
USC began to work the perimeter, which isn't its game. The Gamecocks were 0-for-14 from the 3-point line, like they were in their season-opener, which wasn't that troubling. As Staley said, it's icing on the cake to hit some 3s because USC doesn't depend on them.
But when the Gamecocks needed to break a scoreless drought, they couldn't get it from the perimeter. They were able to get to the line a lot - three Clemson players fouled out - and easily won, but the game showed that while talented, USC has some growing up to do.
"They went to a zone defense and they caused us to kind of second-guess ourselves," Staley said. "We went for what we've been doing for the past two days. They're very long. You try to go over them and that's what they do."
Mitchell, a starter all year, continues to develop. She tied Bruner for scorer's honors and had two assists with six boards, but also was issued a technical foul, part of a double tech along with Clemson's Nikki Dixon. Still, she played well in her rivalry debut.
"I felt relaxed," she said. "I kind of let the game come to me. Clemson's always a big game. We just had to turn up the energy."
USC did after halftime, turning a 31-18 advantage into a 37-20 lead when Bruner, Sancheon White and Mitchell each drove the lane on the Gamecocks' first three possessions. The game was never in doubt and USC thought it could use the second half to fine-tune; instead, it was mostly just running past Clemson and getting the game over so it could work on fixing things before the next game.
The Gamecocks head to the Virgin Islands for the Paradise Jam next, where they'll play three games in three days. It's an important part of the season-long growing process - seeing how a young team handles playing games in a tournament atmosphere.
Staley is hoping that USC takes what it did in the first three games abroad, and not so much the fourth, although all have had the same result.
"We knew we were going to be challenged," Staley said. "I told our players at halftime, 'We're not playing disciplined enough.'"
NOTE: Guard Tiffany Davis did not play and was on the bench in street clothes. A USC official confirmed after the game that Davis does have ligament damage in her right knee that requires surgery. She will miss the rest of the season.
Davis, a freshman, played in three games and averaged 4.0 points, 1.3 rebounds and 1.3 assists.
The Gamecocks are down to nine players. If sophomore Tina Roy can come back from the ACL surgery she had in August, USC will have 10. Roy has been lightly practicing but has not dressed for a game.
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