The Charlotte 49ers (4-5) women’s basketball team hung tough for the majority of the game against the 12th-ranked South Carolina Gamecocks (9-0) but dropped the contest by a final score of 76-61 on Sunday afternoon inside Halton Arena.
“I thought we played very well for about 29 minutes. I thought our players came out very focused and for 29 minutes we executed the game plan perfectly both offensively and defensively,” said Charlotte Head Coach Cara Consuegra postgame.
“Unfortunately we started to wear down and we started to lose our focus. They’re just too good of a team and if you lose that focus for just a couple minutes they’re going to come right at you and that’s exactly what happened.”
Despite turning the ball over four times in the first four minutes of play, the 49ers were able to keep it close throughout the first half against the undefeated Gamecocks.
South Carolina looked to have control of the game early on, but Charlotte went on a quick 8-2 run to capture their first lead of the afternoon at 16-14 midway through the opening half. The run was fueled by a couple free throws and a smooth jump shot from the top of the key by Kira Gordon. Gordon scored eight first half points and controlled the paint for the 49ers after sophomore Alexis Alexander picked up two early fouls before the first media timeout.
The Gamecocks responded nicely with an 11-2 run of their own en route to capturing a 25-18 lead and proving why they’re one of the best teams in the nation early in the season. South Carolina was effective scoring inside and outside during the opening 20 minutes. The Gamecocks were led by guard Tiffany Mitchell who recorded 11 points and center Elem Ibiam who had 10 of her own to go along with a team-high six rebounds.
Charlotte continued to fight and they closed the half strong as they captured momentum following a three-pointer by freshman Ciara Gregory which cut the deficit to 33-32 heading into the locker room. Ny Hammonds did a little bit of everything for the 49ers in the opening half. Hammonds recorded a team-high nine points, six boards and three assists as she played all 20 minutes during the first half.
The two teams continued their back-and-forth battle as they matched baskets early in the second half of play. Charlotte was able to capture a brief lead at 48-46, but South Carolina answered right back and maintained a slim lead throughout the majority of the second half.
The Gamecocks took advantage of a 14-2 run to capture their largest lead of the afternoon at 60-50 with five minutes remaining in the game. South Carolina played more efficient offensively in the second half as they hit 14-22 (63.6 percent) from the field, compared to just 11-31 (35.5 percent) in the first half.
South Carolina Head Coach Dawn Staley made an adjustment in the locker room during halftime and came out in a 2-3 zone defense for the majority of the second half. The zone defense worked perfectly as the Gamecocks were only whistled for five fouls during the entire second half of play. The 49ers struggled offensively shooting just 12-29 (41.4 percent) after knocking down 50 percent of their attempts from the floor in the first half.
“They made us go zone,” said Staley after the game. “Their penetration and their ability to come off of it and hit players on the outside made us pack it in. We forced them to take shots over defenders.”
Hammonds finished the game with a team-high 14 points on the afternoon to go along with six rebounds and four assists. Gordon also reached double figures, dropping 13 points and grabbing a team-high nine rebounds on the day.
“There’s no moral victories here. We’re here to win and we want to be the type of program that can beat teams in the top 10,” said Consuegra.
“At the same time, this also shows the type of team we’re capable of being. I told the team that we need to start to mature and we need to start to understand what we’re capable of as a team. There’s no time to wait anymore. There’s no time to wait for experience and there’s no time to wait to grow up. It’s time to grow up.”
The Charlotte 49ers will hit the road for their next two contests. The 49ers next game is scheduled for Tuesday, Dec. 17 against the Stetson Hatters, tip-off is at 5 p.m.
Photos by Ben Coon.