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January 17, 2013

WBB: Walker pushes USC to win over LSU

VIDEO: Dawn Staley

20130117-DawnStaley-CW from GamecockCentral.com on Vimeo.

In the end, Ieasia Walker was just tired of seeing South Carolina struggle. Playing her role - as point guard, captain and most of all, senior - Walker put the No. 19 Gamecocks on her back and delivered a 66-59 win over LSU on Thursday.

Every play that had to be made, every shot that had to be dropped, Walker was the one that did it. In a season that's quickly becoming a question of how far can the Gamecocks (15-3, 3-2 SEC) go with such an inconsistent offense, she answered the immediate question.

If the offense is as dry as the Sahara, just give Walker the ball.

"I think she took the Georgia loss to heart and she did something about it," coach Dawn Staley said. "We've been working on opening it up, letting her go to work."

The Gamecocks sprinted ahead of LSU (11-7, 2-3) but in a familiar refrain, let the Lady Tigers back into the game. A 19-7 lead with 8:23 to go in the first half became a two-point halftime lead, and a 10-point halftime lead with 15 minutes to play became a 50-48 deficit with 7:31 showing.

Walker had seen enough. After Ashley Bruner fed Aleighsa Welch underneath the hole to tie the game, Walker pulled up beyond the arc and let fly. The 3-pointer splashed down, making it 53-50 USC with 4:57 to go, and the Carolina Coliseum crowd, for a brief moment, mimicked some of the best crowds in its history.

The shot, which also contained Walker's 1,000th point of her career, started a 7-0 run for the Gamecocks and it looked like they had the game locked down. LSU had other ideas, cutting it to 57-55 with 2:29 to go.

Tiffany Mitchell missed two free throws but just as the Lady Tigers were set to make it hurt, Walker went low for a ball and knocked it loose. The ball bounded downcourt and Walker quickly pursued, an LSU defender in her hip pocket, before getting the one final bounce, grabbing, elevating and gently laying the ball off the glass for two points.

The Tigers never recovered, making just one of their final six field goals as USC converted from the free-throw line. Walker ended her performance with one final steal as the Gamecocks rose back above .500 in the SEC.

She scored 17 of her game-high 24 points in the second half. Walker had five steals, two rebounds and just one turnover, and even blocked a shot. Mostly, she was the spark that USC had to have, the buck-stops-here answer when the Gamecocks were looking for a leader.

"Once we start missing, the energy gets kind of low, and we're looking for people to step up," Walker said. "I think we're just missing our confidence, and the only way to get that is to keep practicing."

Walker did that, getting off the bus after a trip back from Georgia and taking some extra shots in the gym. She also made up her mind that as much as she has put into being the point guard and offensive general on the floor, sometimes she has to sacrifice that and be a scorer.

The rest of the Gamecocks always responded to Walker's heroics, immediately picking up the defensive and offensive pace against a taller, heavier opponent. USC was again not terrific from the field, but still placed four in double figures and made 15-of-24 free throws.

USC's defense wasn't sharp, allowing LSU to shoot 46.3 percent, but the Gamecocks managed to keep the Tigers from getting too many cracks at the basket. Of the Lady Tigers' 37 rebounds, only seven were on the offensive end; the Gamecocks had 17 offensive boards, many in a crucial stretch during the final five minutes as they kept possession after possession alive.

Staley credited her team for winning on a strange floor and the ability to make plays. That's what's been missing in the Gamecocks' losses.

But she also knew that Walker, as a senior captain, had decided that enough was enough.

"Ieasia probably took it upon herself to take the shots," Staley said. "She was confident, she was in the flow and she pretty much carried us."

Box score

Team SEC Overall
Kentucky 5-0 17-1
Tennessee 4-0 13-3
Georgia 4-1 16-2
Texas A&M 3-1 13-5
Vanderbilt 3-1 13-4
South Carolina 3-2 15-3
Auburn 2-2 13-4
Florida 2-2 13-5
LSU 2-3 11-7
Alabama 1-3 11-6
Missouri 1-3 12-6
Arkansas 1-4 13-5
Mississippi State 0-5 8-10
Ole Miss 0-4 7-10
Thursday's scores
South Carolina 66, LSU 59
Georgia 57, Arkansas 53
Kentucky 100, Mississippi State 47
Tennessee at Auburn

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