Gamecocks' defense dominant in women's tournament opener

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WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. — South Carolina can still rely on that suffocating defense whenever it gets in trouble.

South Carolina's La'Keisha Sutton drives to the basket against Eastern Michigan's Olivia Fouty in the first half of the Gamecocks' 32-point win in the Fresno Regional.  MICHAEL CONROY/ASSOCIATED PRESS
MICHAEL CONROY/ASSOCIATED PRESS
South Carolina's La'Keisha Sutton drives to the basket against Eastern Michigan's Olivia Fouty in the first half of the Gamecocks' 32-point win in the Fresno Regional.

The problem for the Gamecocks’ next tournament opponent: Shutting down their emerging scorers.

Markeshia Grant had 12 points, Charenee Stephens finished with 11 and Ashley Bruner came off the bench to add 10, leading fifth-seeded South Carolina to an 80-48 rout over Eastern Michigan in Saturday’s first-round game.

“I like us in transition a lot, because we have some athletic post players, myself included,” Stephens said. “At the same time I think we do really well in the half-court set.”

It was a rare glimpse into how dominant the Gamecocks (24-9) can be when they combine a little offense with the nation’s No. 4 defense.

South Carolina shot 53.3 percent from the field, made 5 of 19 from 3-point range and produced its highest point total of the season. The timing couldn’t have been better for coach Dawn Staley’s team.

On Monday night, the Gamecocks will try to add another line to their impressive resurgence by tying the school’s single-season record for victories against fourth-seeded Purdue. They’ve already ended a nine-year tourney drought and reached the SEC tourney finals.

Paige Redditt led Eastern Michigan (23-9) with 14 points, giving her 1,001 in her career, while Natachia Watkins finished with 10 points and 12 rebounds.

PURDUE 83, SOUTH DAKOTA STATE 68

In West Lafayette, Ind., Courtney Moses scored 29 points and set a first-round tournament record by making nine 3-pointers, helping fourth-seeded Purdue (25-8) pull away from pesky South Dakota State (24-9).

It sure wasn’t easy. The Boilermakers thought they had taken control midway through the second half with a 16-point lead, but it took a late 12-3 run to put it away.

Jill Young had 19 points for South Dakota State.

STANFORD 73, HAMPTON 51

In Norfolk, Va., Nnemkadi Ogwumike scored 22 of her 28 points in the first half and top-seeded Stanford beat Hampton.

Joslyn Tinkle added 16 points as the Cardinal (32-1) extended their school-record winning streak to 29.

Stanford will face eighth-seeded West Virginia on Monday night.

Alyssa Bennett scored 19 points to lead Hampton (26-5).

WEST VIRGINIA 68, TEXAS 55

In Norfolk, Va., Taylor Palmer scored 13 of her 18 points in the second half and West Virginia (24-9) held on after squandering most of a 15-point lead to beat Texas (18-14).

The Mountaineers led 48-33 with 10 minutes to play, then saw the Longhorns close within 51-48 with 5½ minutes to go. But after West Virginia went nearly five minutes without a basket, Palmer swished a 3-pointer.

Ashley Gayle scored 11 points and Ashleigh Fontenette 10 to lead Texas, which lost its fifth consecutive tournament game.

Asya Bussie added 12 points for West Virginia, which came into the tourney after a 28-point loss to North Dame in the Big East tournament semifinals.

The game was billed as a matchup of Texas’s guard-oriented attack and West Virginia’s size and defensive intensity, and the Mountaineers made it work even after a sloppy, turnover-filled start and foul trouble that plagued center Ayana Dunning.

Palmer player a big part with four 3-pointers, along with five rebounds and three assists.

Texas appeared to have drawn a break when Dunning, West Virginia’s top rebounder, drew her fourth foul with 14:23 to play, but that’s when Palmer asserted herself. She scored on a steal and fast-break layup, then hit 3-pointers 90 seconds apart. Her feed to Bussie for a layup made it 48-33 with 10:19 remaining, matching the Mountaineers’ largest lead at that point.

Texas used a 15-3 run that included 3-pointers from Chelsea Bass and Yvonne Anderson to get within three, but after both teams went three possessions without scoring, Palmer broke free on the right wing and doubled the Mountaineers’ margin.

When Brooke Hampton added two free throws, and Jessica Harlee scored on a driving layup and added a free-throw when she was fouled, West Virginia’s lead was back up to 59-48 and Texas’ game-long shooting woes sent them to another early exit.

The Mountaineers led 31-18 after closing the first half on a 22-5 run over the last 10 minutes. Texas, meanwhile, was hitting just seven of 32 shots.

Sophomore Chassidy Fussell, the Longhorns’ top scorer with a 16.5 average, was scoreless and missed all six shots from the field, including at least one she heaved up to beat the shot clock. No. 2 scorer Yvonne Anderson was 0-for-4 and also didn’t score.

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