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No. 1/1 South Carolina Defeats Liberty, 84-44
No. 1/1 South Carolina went on a 16-0 run midway through the first half of Sunday afternoon's contest against Liberty and never looked back. The Gamecocks remained unbeaten with an 84-44 victory over the Lady Flames on day two of the Subway Classic at Minnesota's Williams Arena.
Liberty falls to 6-5 with its third consecutive loss. The Lady Flames, who were paced by Simone Brown's 12 points, complete the non-conference portion of their regular-season schedule at 4-5. On Sunday, they were facing the nation's top-ranked team for the first time since matching up with No. 1 Tennessee during the first round of the 1998 NCAA Tournament.
Led by standout freshman A'ja Wilson (17 points, 10 rebounds, three blocked shots), South Carolina moves to 12-0 on the year. The Gamecocks tied their longest winning streak in program history with Sunday's triumph.
The lead changed hands six times during the first 6:49 of the matinee. Ashley Rininger's bank shot at the 13:38 mark gave Liberty its final advantage at 12-11.
Wilson keyed South Carolina's aforementioned 16-0 run with back-to-back three-point plays. Classmate Bianca Cuevas hit a baseline jumper at 8:37, closing out the surge with the Gamecocks on top, 27-12.
Karly Buer temporarily slowed South Carolina's momentum with a perimeter jumper at the 7:54 mark. However, the Gamecocks were able to increase their lead to 24 points (44-20) at halftime.
South Carolina shot extremely well from the field (56.2 percent, 18-of-32) and three-point range (66.7 percent, 4-of-6) before halftime and tallied 20 points in the paint.
Liberty hit only 30 percent (9-of-30) of its first-half field goal attempts and none of its three tries from beyond the three-point arc. The Lady Flames only got to the foul line twice before halftime, sinking both of the attempts.
Led by Wilson's eight boards, South Carolina enjoyed a 24-14 rebounding advantage before halftime.
Buer and Brown scored eight points apiece for the Lady Flames during the first 20 minutes. The Gamecocks' Tiffany Mitchell topped all players with 10 points in the first half.
The Gamecocks countered with a 17-0 run, effectively sealing their victory. South Carolina led by as many as 42 points late in the game, on the way to a 40-point win.
Liberty tightened up its defense during the second half, holding the Gamecocks to 40.6 percent (13-of-32) field goal shooting after halftime. South Carolina dropped to 48.4 percent (31-of-64) from the field for the game, becoming the 41st straight opponent Liberty has held below 50 percent field goal shooting.
The Lady Flames ended up at 32.7 percent (18-of-55) from the floor and only 16.7 percent (2-of-12) from three-point range.
Liberty did make all six of its free throw attempts, but was outscored at the line by 11 points by the Gamecocks, who finished 17-of-26 for 65.4 percent.
The Lady Flames were outrebounded for the second consecutive game, 46-30, as South Carolina pulled down 16 offensive boards.
Liberty blocked nine Gamecock shot attempts, including a career-high six rejections by Rininger.
Brown went 2-of-2 from the free throw line as part of her 12-point effort. The sophomore has now connected on 21 straight foul shots, which is just one shy of the program record of 22 consecutive made free throws, set by Jennifer Fairfax in 1991.
Rininger ended up with 10 points, a team-high six rebounds and six blocks. Her six rejections were the most by a Lady Flame since Katie Feenstra turned away six Winthrop shots on Feb. 28, 2005. Rininger became the fifth Liberty player ever to reach 100 career blocks, finishing the day with 104 rejections. For her efforts, Rininger was named to the all-tournament team.
Buer reached double figures for the 10th time in 11 games, tallying 10 points for the Lady Flames.
The Gamecocks' other double-digit scorers included Aleighsa Welch (15 points), Mitchell (14), Alaina Coates (11) and Elem Ibiam (11). Mitchell's points put her over 1,000 for the junior's career.
Liberty will now take a nine-day break from competition for Christmas before returning to action on Dec. 30 at UNC Asheville. Tipoff is slated for 7 p.m. at Kimmel Arena for the Lady Flames' first of 18 consecutive Big South games to end the regular season.
The Lady Flames will look to remain unbeaten in conference play after posting wins over Radford and Gardner-Webb earlier this month. Liberty will also seek to avenge an 83-80 overtime setback suffered during its last visit to Asheville, on Jan. 18, 2014.
Subway All-Classic Team
Amanda Zahui B., Minnesota - MVP
Tiffani Mitchell, South Carolina
A'ja Wilson, South Carolina
Crystal Bradford, Central Michigan
Ashley Rininger, Liberty