No. 4 CLAYTON STATE 56, No. 3 USC AIKEN 50

By JEREMY TIMMERMAN


jtimmerman@aikenstandard.com


For the first 12 games of the season, most things went right for the No. 3 USC Aiken women’s basketball team.


All that changed in Wednesday’s 56-50 home loss to No. 4 Clayton State.


The Pacers (12-1, 5-1 Peach Belt Conference) shot barely better than 25 percent from the floor in the game, including an anemic 13.9 percent in the second half. The game’s final stanza also saw the home team lead only twice for a total of a little more than three minutes.


Head coach Mike Brandt said the offensive concerns were partially his own team’s execution and partially the Lakers’ zone press defense.


“We didn’t hit some shots,” he said, also crediting Clayton State as one of the country’s top defensive teams.


All-American Kayla Harris was part of the concern for USCA – first for her offense and then for her health. Harris made only two of 11 field goal attempts and was 6-for-10 from the free-throw line. But those worries became secondary late in the game.


With 2:31 remaining, Harris hit the floor screaming after a foul. The injury turned out to be to her right knee, and Brandt said her knee cap was dislocated.


Further details on the injury weren’t available.


“It doesn’t look good,” Brandt said. “Obviously we don’t know for sure.”


The Pacers started the game hot, leading 11-2 at the first media timeout a little more than five minutes into the game. Daniela Tarailo had five points in those early minutes, including a 3-pointer. Tarailo cooled off from there and didn’t score at all in the game’s final 12 minutes. In spite of the drought, she still led the team with 12 points.


When action resumed, the Lakers (14-0, 7-0) began chipping away at the lead and eventually went ahead with 8:27 left in the first half. They stretched the margin to six at 25-19 with a little more than four minutes before halftime, but the Pacers didn’t allow them to score from there.


Four points from Harris, who finished with 11 on the night, and two from Porsha Martin – who scored 10 to go with 15 rebounds in the game – brought the game to a 25-all tie at the half.


After halftime, fouls became an even greater issue for the Pacers.


Point guard Brittany Hill, who had to sit for a healthy portion of the first half after picking up her second foul less than six minutes into the game, fouled out with two minutes to go.


“When you have your playmaker and point guard on the bench ... that changes the complexion of the team,” Brandt said.


That foul came on the heels of Mackenzie Reese hitting a pair of free throws in the injured Harris’ place to give the home team a brief 49-48 lead. Tarailo and Martin were also hampered by foul woes with four each.


The Pacers were able to tie the game one final time at 50-all on a made free throw by Mia Antoine, but she missed the second of the pair. From there, the Lakers built a four-point lead, and a pair of free throw misses and errant 3-pointer from Tarailo kept USCA from getting any closer. With the home team forced to foul, Clayton State’s Drameka Griggs hit both her free throws to give the Lakers a 56-50 lead with six seconds left, sealing the victory.


Griggs proved tough for the Pacers to guard all night. The 5-foot-5 senior guard scored 20 points off the bench, many coming on slashes to the basket. She also chipped in five assists and nine rebounds.


Brandt said he knew Griggs’ speed would be a difference-maker.


“She’s the quickest basketball player that we’ll go against,” he said.


After suffering its first loss of the season and possibly facing extended time without its leading scorer, Brandt said he’d have to take some time consider how he would get his team to bounce back.


He did say that none of the team’s goals – including a conference and national title – were out of the picture for the Pacers.


“That I’m going to have to think about,” he said. “Everybody’s going to have to step up.”


Jeremy Timmerman has a journalism degree from Mercer University and has been at the Aiken Standard since June 2010.