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November 15, 2013

Women rally past College of Charleston

No. 21 South Carolina overcame a sluggish start to defeat College of Charleston 81-54 Thursday night at the Colonial Life Arena.

Trailing for the first time all season, the Gamecocks (3-0) used a 22-3 run over six minutes of the first half to down the Cougars. College of Charleston started the game red hot from the floor, while Carolina couldn't throw it in the ocean. At one point, College of Charleston had shot 8-11 from the field, while USC was 3-11. From there, things began to even out, cruelly so for College of Charleston. The Cougars made just five of their final 22 shots in the first half.

Sophomore Asia Dozier provided the spark for the Gamecock offense during the run. She hit back-to-back threes to give the Gamecocks their first lead, and they never looked back. Dozier finished with a career-high 16 points. Dozier struggled with her shot through her first season, so Thursday night served as a breakout game for her. Once she got the back-to-back shots to fall, her confidence grew.

"It felt real good," she said. "I hadn't seen that in a while so it felt real good to see the ball go in."

With Dozier spreading the court, Aleighsa Welch and Elem Ibiam had room to operate inside. The Cougars primarily played a zone defense, but Dozier's hot shooting prevented them from collapsing on the post. Welch had 12 rebounds in the first half, and finished with a career-high 17 along with 12 points. Ibiam had 12 points and six boards, and freshman Alaina Coates added 11 points and 14 rebounds off the bench.

The Gamecocks were particularly effective on the offensive glass. They grabbed 23 offensive rebounds leading to 23 second chance points. For a time in the first half, it seemed like the offensive game plan was for someone to shoot so Welch could get the rebound for a putback.

"Leighsa took it up another level," Staley said. "She rebounded the ball, she had putbacks, she was pushing the ball down the floor."

"We just had to stay in that attack mentality," Welch said. "Keep attacking, get them in foul trouble, get to the free throw line, and make free throws. I think we did a good job of that. We got into the bonus and just keep attacking."

In both halves, the Gamecocks got into the bonus with more than 12 minutes remaining, thanks mostly to Welch, Ibiam, and Coates. For the game, USC attempted 42 free throws, and getting to the line was the primary reason the Gamecocks were able to stay close early. That being said, they continue to shoot poorly from the stripe, make just 22-of-42 (52.4 percent). Welch may have been the worst offender, making just six of her 11 attempts. Staley said the onus is on the players to improve their shooting, but she is pleased with the commitment she sees.

"First things first is getting there," Staley said. "I think this is eye-opening for our team. They were just talking about getting in the gym to shoot free throws after this poor display."

Both teams ended the game shooting under 40 percent: 30.9 percent for College of Charleston and 37.9 percent for South Carolina... Afreyea Tolbert had a double-double for the Cougars (14 points and 11 rebounds)... Wilka Montout had a career-high eight rebounds... Staley pulled the rotation players with about eight minutes left in the game, putting in the end of the bench. No starter played over 26 minutes... The Gamecocks finished the game shooting 9-28 from three, for a respectable 32 percent, but many of those attempts (and misses) came after the game was over and the reserves were chucking the ball up... Staley continues to joke that the poor free throw shooting is due to the "ghost of Ashley Bruner." Staley said she spoke to Bruner on Twitter this week, but joked that the ghost still lingers... The Gamecocks next game is Sunday, Nov. 17 against Seton Hall.

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