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February 10, 2013

WBB: Cold-shooting USC falls to A&M

VIDEO: Dawn Staley, Kelsey Bone, Ieasia Walker

It couldn't have been scripted any better.

South Carolina will wait for it to come out on Netflix, assuming the No. 15 Gamecocks ever want to watch it again.

Fourteenth-ranked Texas A&M took a 50-48 win over the Gamecocks on Sunday, and the player that everyone came to see - former USC star turned Texas A&M star Kelsey Bone - hit the game-winning shot. Bone rebounded a missed 3-pointer and put it back with 8.7 seconds to play, and the Gamecocks' Ieasia Walker, closely guarded, had to heave a desperation 3-pointer to try and beat the buzzer.

It clanged off front rim and USC, despite not having lost in nearly a month, again tasted a bitter pill. The Gamecocks lost another game because they couldn't hit layups or free throws (28.1 percent from the field, 10-of-22 from the line), and also lost a game that they had circled ever since the season began.

"They made a play at the end of the game," coach Dawn Staley said. "We actually boxed out and forced her to catch the ball and they made a play in the paint.

"My girls are my girls. They did an excellent job today."

While Bone's departure worked out best for everybody, USC (20-4, 8-3 SEC) deeply wanted the game. The Gamecocks were determined not to let Bone, booed nearly every time she touched the ball, dominate the game, and she didn't.

But she had the ball in her hands on the Aggies' last possession, and did what she does with it. USC's defense played very well but didn't get the rebound when it counted.

That, combined with USC's near inability to hit shots from three feet or closer, cost it the game. The Gamecocks have not been a great offensive team all season, but to see so many chances thrown away was particularly galling.

"If I had (an answer), we'd be sitting pretty right now," Staley said. "We've had plenty of opportunities to open a game up. We were in the bonus, 12 minutes left in the half. We were there. We were at the basket.

"We just couldn't get shots to fall."

It was damned aggravating, to see it slip away. The shot chart showed 23 of 37 shots five feet and in missing, and combined with the Gamecocks' usual ineptitude from the free-throw line, to lose by two …

"We just have to focus more," Walker said. "We missed a lot of layups. I think we weren't concentrating enough on making them, we were worried about their height."

The Gamecocks drove the lane and expected contact, and sometimes got it. The Aggies (19-5, 9-1) were in the bonus with 12 minutes to go, and at one point, had 10 fouls to USC's two.

But USC couldn't make those chances count. They couldn't hit the free throws, and when they tried to go to the rim, they expected contact didn't come. That forced an alteration of the shot, and more often than not, an A&M rebound.

Tied at 48 with 1:18 to play, Elem Ibiam fouled out when she hit Courtney Williams on an inside attempt. Williams missed both free throws, though, and USC called timeout.

Everyone in Colonial Life Arena knew the Gamecocks were looking at Walker to take the shot, as Walker had scored 16 points and had taken every big attempt and made every big play. Walker was guarded, though, and had to pass to Ashley Bruner; Bruner drove, tried an off-balance shot and missed.

A&M set up its play, looking for Adrienne Pratcher, who hit the Aggies' only two 3-pointers. She missed, but the ball went right to Bone, who sank the shot.

Walker again was going to take the last shot, but her lanes collapsed and she had to recover a loose ball. "It was supposed to be a high pick-and-roll," Walker said. "I tried to get a shot up and it was just short."

The stats were ugly, but USC is still 20-4 and 8-3 in the league. Barring a complete meltdown, it will make the NCAA tournament.

It might not have as good of an edge at clinching a top-four seed in the SEC tournament, though. The loss dropped the Gamecocks to a tie for fourth, and they lose tiebreakers to the teams in first, second and fourth with them. They hold a tiebreaker over third-place Kentucky, but the Wildcats get a chance to even it on Thursday in Lexington.

Nothing left to do but try and win and hope for help. If the help doesn't come, Sunday's loss looms a lot larger.

"It's not quite still in our control," Staley said. "We will need a little help from some other people. This league is unforgiving. You think somebody's going to win out, you're fooling yourself. You got to go out and play the games, and that's what we'll do."

NOTE: Ibiam played with a protective mask on her face. She broke her nose during practice on Saturday.

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