Top-seeded Lady Pacers survive

Top seed ekes out victory in opener

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 AIKEN — Kayla Harris has spent much of the her sophomore year at USC Aiken mystifying opposing defenses.

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USC Aiken's Hannah DeGraffinreed (left) and Catawba's Dana Hicks vie for a loose ball during the Lady Pacers' two-point regional victory.  CHRIS THELEN/STAFF
CHRIS THELEN/STAFF
USC Aiken's Hannah DeGraffinreed (left) and Catawba's Dana Hicks vie for a loose ball during the Lady Pacers' two-point regional victory.

Catawba head coach Angie Morton deciphered the riddle in theory, but the Lady Pacers’ leading scorer still managed to shine in a 71-69 win Friday night in the first round of the NCAA Division II Southeast Regional.

“Even knowing what they want to do, it’s just difficult to stop her and we really didn’t,” Morton said. “The best thing you can do is get her in foul trouble and she still had 28 points.”

Harris picked up two quick fouls and was kept on a short leash the rest of the game, but she used the 23 minutes of playing time she did get to deliver a career-high 28. She went 8 for 8 from the free-throw line, including two with 1:24 left that turned a one-point deficit into the game’s ninth tie then eighth lead change.

Lady Pacers coach Mike Brandt gambled a few times in the second half, playing Harris even after she picked up her fourth foul with 6:39 to play.

“It’s just kind of a thing you get a feel for,” Brandt said. “You want to get her in as much as you can. You don’t want her to get that third or fourth foul. She plays very smart, so I think there’s opportunities to get her in there at times when possibly some other coaches might not get that person in there.”

The hot-shooting forward, whose previous career high came two weeks ago with a 27-point effort to wrap up the regular season at Flagler, sparked the Lady Pacers by hitting 10 of 15 shots from the field and scored 16 points in the second half.

“My teammates get me the ball,” Harris said. “I work to get open and my teammates find me.”

Fellow forward Hannah DeGraffinreed also hit two key free throws in the final minute to seal the win. The Peach Belt Conference Tournament MVP tallied 20 points and seven rebounds.

The win, which matched a school record at 27 for the season, marked only the second time Harris and DeGraffinreed each scored at least 20 points.

“They’re gamers. They like the ball in the second half. They like the ball in the clutch,” Brandt said. “They want to get to the free throw line. They want to get to the basket. So we worked the ball around. We really don’t have a lot of things specifically designed for that. We have some, but it just so happens when you start running the offense, they’re the ones that find those opportunities, being the great players that they are.”

Catawba (19-11) kept the game close thanks to a spark from freshman Chloe Bully, who hit five 3-pointers on her way to 19 points. Her 3 from the left corner with 45 seconds left in the first half sent the eighth-seeded Lady Indians into the locker room tied with No. 1 seed USC Aiken at 31.

Catawba had a shot at securing the upset when a Lady Pacers turnover gave the visiting team possession trailing by one with 16 seconds left. But a 3-point attempt rimmed out, Brittany Hill hit 1 of 2 free throws with 4.5 seconds left and the Lady Indians failed to get a shot off before the buzzer.

Catawba leading scorer Nisha Long suffered a knee injury just before halftime but played through the pain and scored 13 of her 19 points in the second half.

SOUTHEAST REGIONAL

QUARTERFINALS

No. 3 Wingate 64, No. 6 Barton 59

No. 2 Clayton State 51, No. 7 Tusculum 26

• No. 1 USC Aiken 71, No. 8 Catawba 69

• No. 4 Lander 77, No. 5 Limestone 68

SEMIFINALS

Wingate vs. Clayton State, 5 p.m.

• USC Aiken vs. Lander, 7

*All games played at the USC Aiken Convocation Center


USC AIKEN 71, CATAWBA 69

PLAY OF THE GAME: Trailing by one and 90 seconds away from what would have been a season-ending loss, USC Aiken’s Kayla Harris hit two free throws and teammate Hannah DeGraffinreed did the same on the next possession as the Lady Pacers escaped with a win.

STAR OF THE GAME: Harris hit 10 of 15 shots from the field and went 8 for 8 from the free-throw line for a career-high 28 points.

NEXT: 7 tonight, USC Aiken vs. Lander

Box Score

CATAWBA (19-11)–Chloe Bully 7-16 0-0 19, Renee Welfare 3-4 0-0 6, Dana Hicks 4-8 1-3 9, Nisha Long 7-11 4-6 19, Jolysa Connor 3-5 3-4 9, Lauren Lewis 0-3 0-0 0, Elizabeth Merritt 2-2 0-0 5, Taylor May 0-2 0-0 0, Quaneasia Coleman 1-3 0-0 2. Totals: 27-54 8-13 69.

USC AIKEN (27-3)–Kayla Harris 10-15 8-8 28, Hannah DeGraffinreed 6-12 8-10 20, Brittany Hill 3-7 1-2 7, Mia Antoine 0-2 0-0 0, Daniella Tarailo 4-12 0-1 10, Brittany Bowen 0-1 0-0 0, Porsha Martin 0-1 0-0 0, Lindsay Sundberg 2-5 1-2 6. Totals: 25-55 18-23 71.

Halftime: 31-31. 3-point goals: Catawba 7-16 (Bully 5-10, Long 1-1, Lewis 0-3, Merritt 1-1, May 0-1), USC Aiken 3-11 (Hill 0-2, Tarailo 2-4, Bowen 0-1, Sundberg 1-4). Rebounds: Catawba 38 (Hicks 11), USC Aiken 27 (DeGraffinreed 7). Assists: Catawba 12 (Long 5), USC Aiken 13 (Hill 5). Turnovers: Catawba 15, USC Aiken 6. Fouls: Catawba 18, USC Aiken 16. Fouled out: Tarailo. A-1,058.


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