VIDEO: Dawn Staley
South Carolina used big runs at the start of both halves to beat Butler 67-54 on Tuesday. Ieasia Walker and Charenee Stephens led the way for the Gamecocks, with 17 and 14 points, respectively. The win put the Gamecocks over .500 (6-5) heading into the Christmas break.
Everything went right early for the Gamecocks during a 13-0 spurt. Stephens controlled the paint, scoring eight points during the run, with support from center Jewel May (two points) and Walker (three points).
"I always try to make myself available for my teammates whether they get me the ball or not, it's just today it happened I had a lot of open lanes," Stephens said. "We had a bit of a size advantage, which we don't usually have. I'm glad our guards recognized that and were able to get me the ball."
"She came out and established herself in the first half," coach Dawn Staley said. "That's what we needed to get, some easy buckets, some easy layups."
The Gamecocks led 16-4 when Sara Hamm made a layup to finally get Butler back on the board. The teams played each other evenly for most of the half, before Butler made a run.
Butler scored the final nine points of the half to nearly erase USC's early lead. After Samone Kennedy made a layup to put USC up 29-14, Butler caught fire from long range. Brittany Bowen, who led all scorers with 23 points, drained a 3-pointer from the corner, Becca Bornhorst hit from the top of the key and Bowen capped the run with her second long-range bucket. The Gamecocks missed four baskets during the stretch.
USC opened the second half just like the first. Bowen's 3 was the lone basket for the Bulldogs during a 16-3 Gamecock run. USC got scoring from all five players on the court during the run, and worked the offensive glass effectively, grabbing eight boards. USC finished with a 16-7 edge in second-chance points.
After not attempting a free throw in the first half, the Gamecocks also quickly got Butler
into foul trouble. USC was in the bonus with 12:18 left to play, and in the double bonus at the 9:08 mark.
The Gamecocks twice stretched their lead to as much as 20 before Butler made a late run to make the score respectable. Butler resorted to intentionally fouling to try to come back, but solid free-throw shooting kept USC in control. The Gamecocks went 17-for-24 from the charity stripe, establishing a season-high for free throws made. Staley didn't mind the fact that the Gamecocks were not able to put Butler away when they had the chance.
"At this point, we'll take any win," Staley said. "I'd rather correct from winning rather than losing, because we've done that a whole lot. We're going to play a lot of people, and sometimes when you're putting people in and out of the lineup, you lose something. I think for the most part, I'll take the win."
Walker led USC with nine rebounds, a career-high. She also had two assists and four steals.
"I was just boxing out because they were out-rebounding us for a while, so I just made a conscious effort to box out," Walker said. "We needed to win the boards."
May added six rebounds, five points and two blocks, while Stephens finished with four rebounds and two blocks.
NOTES: USC's first free-throw attempt came with 16:14 to play. Marah Strickland made the first shot, but missed the second ... The miss was Strickland's first of the season. She entered the game 17-for-17, and finished 3-for-4, scoring 11 points. Kennedy surpassed her season-high for points in the first half with five. She finished with seven points and three assists ... In her third game back from a knee injury, Valerie Nainima scored two points. She was 0-for-3 from the field but 2-for-2 from the line ... La'Keisha Sutton finished with four points, but was 0-for-7 from the floor. She added three rebounds and a team-high five assists ... USC's next game is Dec. 28, when it hosts Presbyterian.
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