AIKEN — A determined USC Aiken women’s basketball team won on the road. And for that, they’ll now get to play at home.
The Lady Pacers knocked off Clayton State in the Peach Belt Conference Tournament last weekend in a meeting of top-10 programs and earned the top seed in the NCAA Division II Southeast Regional, bringing the three-round event to the USC Aiken Convocation Center starting today.
Clayton State, the conference’s regular-season champion, beat USC Aiken in Morrow, Ga., in January, but the Lady Pacers found revenge in Columbus, Ga., last weekend in the conference tournament finals.
Feeding off the momentum of nine consecutive victories – including double-digit
wins in the quarterfinals and semifinals – USC Aiken knocked off third-ranked Clayton State by five points.
“I give the players a ton of credit,” Lady Pacers coach Mike Brandt said. “It’s probably the toughest that they’ve played throughout the year, and that’s what you have to do at tournament time.”
The next tournament will present a bigger stage but also a familiar one. The Southeast Regional will be played on USC Aiken’s home court, where the Lady Pacers (26-3) haven’t lost a game this season. They’ll play the third game today in the regional’s first round, a matchup with eighth-seeded Catawba
(19-10) scheduled for 6 p.m.
The Lady Indians were an at-large pick into the field of 64 after losing in the South Atlantic Conference Tournament finals.
The Lady Pacers haven’t lost since dropping the road game to Clayton State on Jan. 28 and enter the tournament as a favorite to advance to the Elite Eight in San Antonio.
“This is something we set out for at the beginning of the year,” Brandt said. “At the first of the year you set a lot of goals that you think might be achievable, but as the year proceeded we were having a good season and it was becoming more of a possibility.”
Part of the early-season success included a 62-53 road win over Catawba. The Lady Pacers opened a 12-0 lead in the late-November game and never looked back.
USC Aiken got 15 points and 11 rebounds from forward Hannah DeGraffinreed, who went on to a strong senior year highlighted by last weekend’s tournament Most Valuable Player award.
The Lady Indians will have to find a way to stop DeGraffinreed and fellow all-conference tournament forward Kayla Harris. The two Lady Pacers will have to deal with Catawba center Dana Hicks, who led the South Atlantic Conference with 11.9 rebounds per game.