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USC’s 3-point barrage from guards La’Keisha Sutton and Markeshia Grant overwhelmed Mississippi in a 61-43 win on Wednesday.
The victory was the second straight for the Gamecocks (16-5, 5-3) after a three-game losing streak and sets the team on a positive path for the final eight contests of SEC play. After two seasons of scrambling late and failing to snare an NCAA bid, the Gamecocks stand in a good spot with a 41st RPI ranking at the beginning of the week.
“I like where we are,” USC coach Dawn Staley said.
South Carolina dominated Mississippi in the first half behind 14 points by Sutton, who hit all four of her 3-point shots, to take a 35-16 lead into the locker room.
But the Rebels (12-9, 2-6) scored the final four points of the first half and started the second half making nine of their first 10 shots to cut the USC lead to eight.
“We told them at halftime that they probably have a run in them,” Staley said. “I didn’t call a timeout because I wanted our team to learn and work through that. There were things that we were doing earlier that we got away from. We weren’t getting back in transition. They were getting easy buckets. It was a lapse, and we have to make sure we take care of the lapses.”
Grant kept USC afloat in the second half just like Sutton did in the first. Her 3-pointer ended the Rebels’ run and woke up the Gamecocks.
Grant followed that with a running layup to spark a 11-2 run by South Carolina to put the game away. Mississippi failed to hit a field goal in the final 10 minutes.
Grant scored 11 second-half points, including a trio of 3-pointers. She finished with 20 points. Sutton scored 17 points.
Both guards hit career highs in three-pointers — Sutton with five and Grant with four. The Gamecocks tied a season-high with nine long-range baskets, while setting a season mark by hitting 50 percent of 3-point shots. USC also shot a team SEC-best 41 percent from the field.
“We’re capable from an offensive standpoint,” Staley said. “Our kids have to be confident. Part of it is that we lack confidence in taking shots because we’re afraid to miss them.”
The team pulled together after the losing streak when Staley asked each player what they would give and what they would sacrifice for the final 10 games of the season, so the players could hold each other accountable, Grant said.
“I think we got our feet back under us,” she said. “And I think we have a whole new attitude now.”
USC senior guard Courtney Newton, who has started 20 games this season, left late in the first half after getting struck in the head chasing an offensive rebound. She did not return to the game as a precautionary measure and is day-to-day, Staley said.
Percentages: FG .354, FT .875. 3-Point Goals: 2-7, .286 (McFarland 0-1, Hameth 2-6). Team Rebounds: 2. Blocked Shots: 4 (Byrd 3, McFarland). Turnovers: 19 (Byrd 3, McFarland 4, Hameth 2, Faleru 2, Jenkins, Singletary 3, McCray, Jackson 2. Steals: 4 (Byrd, Hameth, Faleru, Jackson.). Technical Fouls: None.
Percentages: FG .413, FT .500. 3-Point Goals: 9-18, .500. (Walker 0-1, Grant 4-7, Sutton 5-7, Newton 0-1, Roy 0-2). Team Rebounds: 2. Blocked Shots: 2 (Walker, Ibiam). Turnovers: 9 (Stephens, Grant, Sutton, Bruner, Welch 2, Ibiam 2). Steals: 9 (Stephens, Walker 2, Newton 2, White, Bruner, Welch 2.) Technical Fouls: None. A: 2,198. Officials: Bryan Enterline, Billy Smith, Rob Fessler.