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November 28, 2012

WBB: USC rises to tame Dragons in OT

VIDEO: Dawn Staley

201211228-DawnStaley-CW from GamecockCentral.com on Vimeo.

South Carolina remains a horrendous free-throw shooting team.

South Carolina also remains undefeated.

The Gamecocks erased a 14-point halftime deficit to beat Drexel 58-55 in overtime on Wednesday, improving to 8-0 for the first time since 2002-03 and adding a major comeback win to their list of accomplishments for this season. Despite going 1-for-6 from the line in overtime, and 9-for-20 for the game, USC held the Dragons (4-2) scoreless in the extra period and pulled out another victory.

"That was a pretty good second half," coach Dawn Staley said. "I thought our players grew up."

Staley weathered a final possession where USC could have iced the game from the line, but Ashley Bruner missed two straight shots, and Drexel's Meghan Creighton airballed the game-tying 3-pointer. The Gamecocks played about as lousy as they could to trail 36-22 at the half, but still found a way to win.

"We had to defend our home floor," said sophomore Aleighsa Welch, who recorded her third double-double in four games with 12 points and 15 rebounds. "They were trying to put us away in the first half."

After a first half where she had no points and no rebounds, Bruner exploded in the second half and extra period for 12 and eight, respectively. She missed two free throws at the start of overtime but finished a pass from Ieasia Walker to score with 3:27 remaining for the Gamecocks' first lead, then snared a rebound and fed Welch for what became one made free throw to set the final margin.

The senior also rebounded a 3-pointer from Rachel Pearson that Sancheon White blocked, which led to her being fouled with five seconds to play. Bruner again missed both free throws, but Creighton's 3-pointer from the corner hit nothing but air as the buzzer sounded.

"Something I have to work through," Bruner explained. "I'm trying to get my form together, put some confidence underneath my shot. There was a lot of pressure today. Hopefully the next time that comes around, I'll be able to hit those shots."

USC escaped on a night that looked nearly routine in the final box score, but was nothing but during the first 20 minutes. The Gamecocks again out-rebounded their opponent, 38-37, but only after trailing 19-10 at the half; they again won the hustle categories.

Drexel still ended shooting 42.3 percent from the field, keyed by a 62.5 percent performance in the first half when it had USC scrambling to cover wide-open shooters. USC had trouble with Drexel's 2-3 zone, stocked with similar height and length, and abandoned its plan of working the ball inside to Bruner and Welch early; the Gamecocks' guards couldn't buy a bucket and fell behind in transition and on defense.

The highlight of the first half was when Welch got the ball at the top of the key and was looking for a teammate underneath the rim. She threw a pass that was so off the mark that it swished through the basket for three points.

Staley gathered herself and challenged the team at halftime, particularly Bruner. "I sure did, which can't be told up in here," she said. "She wasn't ready to play, and in order for us to be on all cylinders, our starters have to get off to a good start. She usually is one that we can count on to be there when we need her."

Bruner listened.

"I really took it personally that I didn't have any points or rebounds" she said. "The fact that I really didn't think I was going to help my team. I was going to do whatever it takes to get my team back in the game."

Bruner came out smoking and freshman Tiffany Mitchell continued to show game-by-game improvement, scoring a team-high 14 points. She calmly dialed in a 3-pointer to cut the deficit to two points with 3:19 to play, and then she fed White for another 3 to tie the game with 1:03 in regulation.

Drexel's Hollie Mershon missed a bank shot that would have won the game at the buzzer and the game headed to overtime, where the Dragons couldn't solve USC's feisty defense. More prolonged possessions, blocked shots, Welch all over the paint for rebounds and another shot-clock violation gave the Gamecocks too many chances; even with the missed free throws, USC found one more shot than Drexel did.

USC didn't do a lot of what it expects to do, but still won. It was a lesson.

"It was hard because there was a lot of bodies crowded into the paint," Welch said. "It was tough to kind of get the hang of their zone, but we finally settled into ourselves and were able to get what we wanted to get."

Box score

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