S. Carolina handles Hampton Gamecocks crush Lady Pirates on boards, win 45-34

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ST. THOMAS - The University of South Carolina raced out to a 15-point, second-half lead and held on for a 45-34 win over Hampton University in the opening game of Paradise Jam on Thanksgiving Day at the UVI Sports and Fitness Center.

Sophomore forward Aleighsa Welch led the Gamecocks (5-0) with 16 points while chipping in 11 rebounds. The 6-footer scored 10 of South Carolina's first 13 points of the second half, and the Lady Pirates had no match in the post. Welch finished 6-for-7 from the field and 4-for-6 from the foul line.

"I just wanted to be physical," Welch said. "They didn't really have a height advantage, so it was kind of like playing with people my size, so I just wanted to use my strength to my advantage, find the openings and just go after every ball."

USC crushed Hampton, 57-32, in the rebounding battle and made good use of 18 offensive rebounds for 15 second-chance points.

"Aleighsa has been doing that for the past year and a half now," USC coach Dawn Staley said. "She's got a knack for the ball, she got a knack for rebounding. She's relentless, and you know I'm glad she's on our side because she gives us extra possessions. She's calm in there, and I was glad to see her have the type of game that she had today because we needed it."

Both teams shot a dismal 25 percent or less in the first half. South Carolina led 19-13 at halftime, and the difference was second-chance points for the Gamecocks, who had seven offensive rebounds and seven points on extended possessions.

"We didn't make shots," Hampton coach David Six said. "Shots we normally make we didn't make and they killed us on the boards."

Welch's tip-in with three minutes remaining in the first half gave the Gamecocks their largest lead of the half at 11. Hampton junior forward Alyssa Bennett responded with a 3-pointer and a pull-up, mid-range jumper to get the Lady Pirates back within single digits.

Hampton (4-1) cut the second-half deficit to nine on two occasions, but struggled to get stops and string together even two consecutive scoring possessions. Junior forward Alyssa Bennett led the Lady Pirates with 13 points, but received little help. Senior forward Keiara Avant and junior guard Nicole Hamilton were assertive, but finished a combined 3-for-24 from the field for the Lady Pirates.

Hampton managed to keep the deficit near 10 because USC committed 29 turnovers and made just 10-of-27 free-throw attempts. Staley is still trying to figure out her team's free-throw issue through five games.

"If I knew, it would be fixed," she said. "We're not the strongest free throw shooting team, but I'm glad to see that we're getting there."

South Carolina plays Florida Gulf Coast University at 4:30 p.m. today. Hampton will open play for the second straight day and take on DePaul University at 2:15 p.m.

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