No. 21 South Carolina falls short

  • Article by: PETE IACOBELLI
  • Associated Press
  • December 19, 2012 - 10:16 PM

COLUMBIA, S.C. - South Carolina coach Dawn Staley didn't get the landmark win she wanted from her latest matchup with No. 1 Stanford. She thought her Gamecocks made a strong statement, though, about where they're headed this season.

No. 21 South Carolina held Stanford 25 points below its season average and had the lead with less than three minutes to go before falling to the Cardinal 53-49 on Wednesday night.

Staley and her team saw playing Stanford (10-0) as an opportunity to prove they belonged among the game's best. Despite the loss, Staley believes the Gamecocks showed they're closing in on elite teams.

"We didn't shock the world, but I think the nation understands the type of basketball that we play here at the University of South Carolina," Staley said.

Aleighsa Welch led the Gamecocks with 17 points while Ieasia Walker had 15. The rest of South Carolina's starters, though, combined to go 4 of 31 from the floor for 12 points.

Welch said if the players repeat the detailed preparation they put in for Stanford each game of the rest of the season, they'll have success. Walker said the Gamecocks played hard, yet she didn't want her teammates to be content with losing.

"We were pleased with the effort, but we don't want to accept the moral victory," she said. "We want to get the wins that are gettable."

Chiney Ogwumike had 21 points and 15 rebounds, Mikaela Ruef hit a tiebreaking layup with 53 seconds left and Toni Kokenis hit six foul shots down the stretch in Stanford's victory.

"We had a target on our back tonight and that's one of the things we have to expect when we come to games like this," Ogwumike said.

South Carolina (10-1) gave Stanford all it could handle at the raucous Colonial Life Arena, where more than 8,000 fans screamed with each possession. The arena erupted when Sancheon White's jumper gave South Carolina its final lead 44-42 with 2:32 remaining.

Ogwumike answered with a go-ahead three-point play and the Gamecocks tied it up on Welch's foul shot. That's when Ruef drove left and threw up a shot that barely scraped over the rim and fell in to put Stanford ahead to stay.

The Gamecocks pulled to 51-49 on Walker's 3-pointer with 3 seconds left, but Kokenis added two final foul shots to ice things.

"I'm really proud of our team, how Toni and Chiney really stayed with things," Stanford coach Tara VanDerveer said. "You're in a very hostile environment, great crowd, great atmosphere."

Not that it was pretty.

Stanford had a season-high 18 turnovers and shot 40 percent. Still, it's a win and the third time in program history — all under VanDerveer — its started 10-0. The last time came in the 1991-92 season.

Ogwumike had her eighth game with double figure points and rebounds this season. But she said it was the little things like Ruef's driving basket — her only points of the second half — and Kokenis' perfect foul shooting that won the game.

"Coach says every possession counts and it counted tonight," Ogwumike said.

Kokenis had 15 points for Stanford, including six foul shots in the final minute to keep control. Amber Orragne scored 11 points and Joslyn Tinkle had seven blocks.

The Gamecocks fell to 0-9 all-time against No. 1 opponents.

Staley said she knew the game would come down to making shots. "And we just fell short," she said. "We outshot them, we got more opportunities at the basket. We just couldn't put it in."

It was a matchup of coaching friends VanDerveer and Staley, who credits Stanford's coach with teaching her to be a student of the game. That was back in 1996 when VanDerveer led the U.S. team and star point guard Staley to Olympic gold at the Atlanta Games. The admiration hasn't diminished with time.

"You don't have enough paper and pens to write the good things I could say about her," VanDerveer said.

VanDerveer's gotten the better of things since Staley arrived at South Carolina five seasons ago, winning all three previous games including a 76-60 decision in the NCAA tournament's round of 16 last March.

Stanford started its final pre-Pac 12 Conference stretch with a cross-country trek to take on Southeastern Conference opponents in South Carolina and No. 10 Tennessee in Knoxville on Saturday.

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