NO. 4 USC AIKEN WOMEN 59, BENEDICT 47
By JEREMY TIMMERMAN
Benedict came into the Convocation Center and held the fourth-ranked USC Aiken women’s basketball team to its lowest point total of the season Saturday with tough, physical play.
Fortunately for the Pacers, the home team did the same and came away with a 59-47 victory.
USC Aiken (5-0) head coach Mike Brandt said that the gritty win over Benedict (2-4) was a good test for his team, particularly since USCA was playing the last game of a five-game homestand to start the season.
“I think it was huge, especially right before your first road game. Playing at home you kind of get in your comfort zone,” he said. “So this was much better than us winning by 25, 30 points. ... It was very important for us to have a game like this.”
USC Aiken junior point guard Brittany Hill, one of the team’s three captains, led the team in scoring with 17 points and made 13 of 15 free throw attempts. She echoed her coach’s sentiments regarding the importance of the close win.
“We needed a game like that,” she said. “We needed to prove to ourselves that we can play through this kind of stuff, overcome obstacles – whether they’re mental or physical – and be a tough team.”
The Pacers did all the scoring in the game’s first 11 minutes, the first seven of which came from junior All-American Kayla Harris, to take a 12-0 lead. Benedict head coach James Rice employed a unique strategy during that stretch, pressing on defense and bringing in complete line changes with each of the first several substitutions. Brandt said the scheme, while not completely foreseen, was not altogether shocking.
“I wasn’t surprised. I think teams coming in here are going to need to do things like that,” he said. “I expect other teams to come in here and do different situations like that, just to throw us off pace and see if they can do anything to throw us off and give us a kink and allow them to stay in the ball game.”
The Tigers also created contact at both ends of the floor, which created frustration for the home team and kept the rhythm of the game in flux. The teams were called for a combined 51 fouls, 29 of which went against the visitors.
Because of the aggressive play, Harris fouled out with a little less than three minutes to go in the game, the first time she’s done so this season. Brandt said the Tigers did a good job of putting Harris, who finished with 14 points and eight rebounds, in bad situations.
“They had a couple players, and I think two of them were charges,” he said, adding that he has confidence in the rest of his team even if teams are able to get Harris out of the game. “Got caught up with a little frustration, but she did a good job, and if they foul Kayla and she gets in foul trouble, I’m very confident with our bench that we can come in there, and just put another sub in there and keep the thing going.”
Senior guard Daniela Tarailo rounded out the Pacers’ double-digit scorers with 10 points, including two first-half 3-pointers. For the game, the Pacers made 2 of 5 attempts (.400), a number overshadowed by the Tigers’ 8-for-17 performance (.471) from beyond the arc, including a 6-for-11 mark in the second half to stay in the game.
Ashley Thompson and Monique Weathers knocked down three longballs each for the Tigers, and Thompson contributed nine points to Weathers’ 11. The Tigers were led in scoring by Alexus Jones with 13, and Jones tied for the team lead with Kaiya Elliot with six rebounds.
Senior guard and co-captain Mia Antoine led the Pacers with nine rebounds, a new career high.
Even though the 59 points isn’t the offensive output Brandt is looking for, he said he was impressed with the way his team fought through a gutsy effort from the visiting Tigers.
“Give them credit that they played hard and got after it, but our players kind of hung with it and ended up finishing the job,” he said.
The Pacers will next put their unbeaten record on the line at Wingate on Friday at 7 p.m. and will return to the Convocation Center for their Peach Belt Conference opener on Dec. 15 at 5:30 p.m. against UNC Pembroke, the first game of a doubleheader with the men’s team.
Jeremy Timmerman has a journalism degree from Mercer University and has been at the Aiken Standard since June 2010.