South Carolina couldn’t hit shots and couldn’t extend its season Sunday.
The Gamecocks shot 30.6 percent, including 11.1 percent from 3-point range, in a 69-57 loss to Charlotte in the second round of the Women’s NIT at Colonial Life Arena. The 49ers, which shot 45 percent, also outscored USC in the paint.
South Carolina struggled to keep up with Charlotte’s speed in transition, USC coach Dawn Staley said, and needed to get the Atlantic 10 school in foul trouble or to shoot more long-range shots.
“They never had the look of defeat,” Staley said of her team. “I thought we continued to drive the ball down their throats. We were still scrapping. It’s just we couldn’t throw it in the ocean.”
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Staley said no one expected South Carolina (18-15) to have a winning season or finish well in the SEC (8-8). Her team’s win total has improved in each of her three seasons in Columbia. The WNIT appearance was her first postseason berth with the Gamecocks.
“(The coaches) put an emphasis, ‘We’re not going to be the doormat of the SEC,’
” senior forward Jewel May said of the program’s progress. “People know when they see South Carolina on the schedule it’s not going to be an easy win. I think we’ve come a long, long way as far as our mindset, as far as the players we’re bringing in and as far as the game that we put on the floor.”
USC returns its top three scorers next season, and Staley says the must improve its post play, win more rebounds and develop more depth. But what comes next for USC’s third-year coach.
Staley may be a candidate to return to Virginia, her alma mater, and replace Debbie Ryan, who is retiring after 34 seasons. Staley was a two-time national player of the year when Virginia went to three consecutive Final Fours.
Asked if she will return to USC, Staley said: “That’s the plan.”
On Sunday, USC could not take advantage of Charlotte’s 12 first-half turnovers — scoring nine points from the miscues.
The 49ers (25-9) took better care of the ball and committed two turnovers in the second half. Taking care of the ball, the 49ers extended an eight-point halftime lead with an 11-2 run early in the second half.
But USC mounted a late comeback with a 10-0 run sparked by Iaesia Walker, who stole an inbounds pass and scored after an Ashley Bruner basket. But it was not enough the Gamecocks’ 27 percent shooting in the second half.
Walker led the Gamecocks with 15 points. Reserve guard Markeshia Grant added 11 points — her fourth consecutive game in double-digits. Forward Charenee Stephens grabbed a team-high 11 rebounds and scored eight points.
The loss was the final game for USC seniors May and Valerie Nainima. May fouled out with four minutes remaining after scoring two points, while Nainima — who said she never fully recovered from tearing her ACL last year — finished with seven points.
Percentages: FG .453, FT .727. 3-Point Goals: 5-10, .500 (Holmes 3-5, McCallum 1-3, Woodson 1-1, Johnson 0-1). Team Rebounds: 2. Blocked Shots: 2 (Hailey, McCallum). Turnovers: 14 (Dowe 2, McCallum 2, Woodson 2, Tyler 2, Forney 2, Johnson 2, Hailey, Holmes). Steals: 6 (Forney 2, Woodson 2, McCallum 2). Technical Fouls: Holmes.
Percentages: FG .306, FT .630. 3-Point Goals: 2-18, .111 (Grant 1-7, Nainima 1-4, Walker 0-4, Sutton 0-2, Newton 0-1). Team Rebounds: 6. Blocked Shots: 1 (Stephens). Turnovers: 14 (Sutton 6, Walker 4, Nainima, Wilson, Grant, Stephens). Steals: 8 (Sutton 2, Grant 2, Walker, Newton, Nainima, Bruner). Technical Fouls: None.
Att.–704. Officials–Bruce Morris, Erica Bradley, Shawn Goode.