Gamecocks make Oklahoma sweat before two late runs ruin upset attempt
ST. THOMAS, Virgin Islands - Oklahoma saw a 20-point first-half lead vanish before Whitney Hand sparked a key-run.
After South Carolina closed to within two points, Hand converted a key three-point play to spark a 9-0 Oklahoma spurt, and send the Sooners to a 75-67 victory against the Gamecocks in the Paradise Jam on Thursday.
The Sooners (3-1) built a 20-point lead midway through the first half before South Carolina rallied to within 45-43 on a 3-pointer by Valerie Nainima with 14:07 left in the game. Oklahoma countered with a 9-0 run ignited by Hand to restore an 11-point advantage.
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Hand connected on a layup as she was fouled and hit the free throw. After back-to-back 3-pointers by Amanda Thompson and Nyeshia Stevenson, the Sooners were ahead 54-45.
"Whitney Hand made a huge basket," Oklahoma coach Sherri Coale said. "It was perfect execution of a time-out call."
USC (2-2) wasn't finished, closing to 67-64 with 4:50 to go, but it could get no closer.
Stevenson scored 16 points for the Sooners, and Hand finished with 15. Danielle Robinson scored 14 points, and Thompson worked for 11 points and nine rebounds for Oklahoma, which will play No. 23 San Diego State today.
Oklahoma jumped on USC for a 12-0 lead and led 31-11 with 9:09 left in the first half.
"We had nice intensity early and put defensive pressure on the basketball, and rebounding played a big part in it," Coale said of Oklahoma storming out to the big lead early. "We just had a lot of juice. When we play with it, we're pretty good, when we play without it, we're very average."
South Carolina closed to 41-29 at halftime and used a 14-2 run to pull within 45-43.
"Defensively, we got a little bit rattled in that stretch, but we made enough effort plays, loose-ball scrums that we were able to right the ship and ride it out," Coale said.
Freshman Kelsey Bone led South Carolina with 18 points and six rebounds. Valerie Nainima scored 14 points for the Gamecocks and La'Keisha Sutton added 13. The Gamecocks face No. 5 Notre Dame today.
"We were resilient," USC coach Dawn Staley said. "We've got a resilient bunch of kids who are going to continue to fight. Our problem is making good decisions at different times in the basketball game that can put us in a position to win or continue to put them back on their heels.
"We didn't score and dug ourselves a hole. Then we established ourselves on the blocks and driving to the basket. We knew that would be a strength of ours."