A No. 13 national ranking and newly-announced No. 2 ranking among the NCAA Division II Southeast Regional teams have ensured the USC Aiken women’s basketball squad as a team to beat in the Peach Belt Conference.
So the target on their back was a big one when they arrived at Christenberry Fieldhouse on Wednesday night for a Peach Belt Conference showdown with rival Augusta State. The Lady Jaguars threw their best effort at the target and were effective most of the night, but the Lady Pacers held on for a 68-63 win.
“I do think other teams are bringing their ‘A’ games. They’re playing real good and shooting the ball well,” USC Aiken coach Mike Brandt said. “They hit some good shots, some tough shots. But then again, we do have some character and stuck with it, didn’t panic and came through in the second half.”
USC Aiken (20-3, 13-2), which knocked off Augusta State by 29 points a month ago, ran up against a more organized and energized Lady Jaguars on Augusta State’s Senior Night. The Lady Jaguars (11-13, 6-10) held the normally sharp-shooting Lady Pacers to just 30.8 percent in the first half with a hectic half-court defense and rode the hot hand of 3-point specialist Amber Peterson to a 27-23 Augusta State lead at halftime.
But Peterson, who hit 4 of 5 3-pointers and scored all of her team-leading 14 points in the first half, picked up her third foul a minute before halftime and spent the rest of the game in foul trouble.
“She was playing exceptionally well,” Augusta State coach Nate Teymer said. “When she picked up her third foul and then her fourth, it took the aggression away.”
The Lady Pacers’ first half struggles, which included poor play from guard Daniela Tarailo and reigning conference player of the week Kayla Harris, turned around in the second half thanks to a better defensive effort. USC Aiken’s full-court press created three consecutive turnovers during a 15-2 run that gave the Lady Pacers a five-point lead.
Tarailo took control on the offensive end with a 10-foot jumper sandwiched between two 3-pointers. The junior guard missed all four of her shots in the first half but scored 13 of her 14 points in the second half.
“We know that we’re better than that. This was a big game for us,” Tarailo said.
Brittany Hill and Mia Antoine helped Tarailo execute the full-court press, which disrupted Augusta State’s flow and handed USC Aiken all the momentum.
“It’s fun. You get the crowd into it, the players are into it, the bench gets into it,” Tarailo said. “It’s not just us five on the court. Everybody got into it and it’s fun when they’re frustrated. We know when people do it to us, we hate it. So when we can get under their skin, it turns into something good.”
When Lindsay Sunberg hit a 3-pointer from the left wing with 10:42 left, it was the Lady Pacers’ 10th made basket in 14 second-half attempts.
Augusta State weathered the press enough to force five second-half lead changes and six ties. But Hill hit a pair of free throws with 8:40 left to give the Lady Pacers the lead for good at 53-52.