COLUMBIA, S.C. - Behind a career-high 24 points from La'Keisha Sutton, South Carolina cruised to a 65-49 victory over Auburn in SEC women's basketball action Sunday afternoon at Colonial Life Arena. The Gamecocks (16-11, 8-6 SEC) led by as many as 19 in the second half, thanks to a strong end to the first half and an explosive open to the second.
The Gamecocks got off to a slow start and found themselves trailing by eight after a scoreless five minutes. Sutton put the offense on her back, scoring six of the team's first nine points to get within three at 12-9 midway through the half. From there South Carolina settled down, fighting for rebounds and locking down on defense. A series of Auburn turnovers in the back half of the period spawned a 12-4 run that saw the Gamecocks take a 27-22 lead into the locker room at halftime. While the defense did its job, Ashley Bruner went to work on the boards and in transition, and Valerie Nainima hit back-to-back 3-pointers from opposite sides of the floor to spark the offense.
The second half opened up all Gamecocks. Three Auburn turnovers and no offensive rebounds on its first eight possessions allowed South Carolina to kick off the half with a 17-3 run that stretched the lead to 44-25 just six minutes into the half. For the Gamecocks, shots fell from all directions, many from 3-point range. Nainima opened with a 3, and Sutton added the next three points on a transition layup and a free throw. After Morgan Toles hit a pair of free throws to interrupt the spurt, Courtney Newton netted back-to-back 3-pointers for a 39-24 Gamecock advantage. Toles hit o1-of-2 from the line on the Tigers' next trip down the floor, but Sutton kept the pressure on with a 3 from the left wing, and Grant capped the run with a transition layup to put South Carolina up by 19.
South Carolina shot 43.6 percent from the field, including 43.8 percent (7-16) from 3-point range. Nainima hit 3-of-4 from long range en rouge to 15 points, and Bruner rounded out a trio of Gamecocks in double figures with 14 points. Her six rebounds led the team and included five on the offensive end. Newton added a team-high four assists to her six points.
The Gamecocks' eight SEC wins are the most in a season since the 2002-03 squad finished with a 9-5 five league record. South Carolina's 16 total victories are the most since head coach Dawn Staley took over the program from the 2008-09 season.
The Gamecocks play their final road game of the regular season on Thu., Feb. 24, at LSU before returning to Colonial Life Arena for the regular-season finale against Vanderbilt on Sun., Feb. 27.