For the No. 3 USC Aiken women, most wins have come fairly easy this season. That wasn’t the case in Wednesday’s 63-59 home win over Anderson. Due in large part to a pressure zone defense, the Pacers (9-0) never led by more than six points, and trailed by as many as 10 in the first half.

USCA head coach Mike Brandt said the strength of the defense the Trojans (7-4) employed had his team uncomfortable in the first half.

“You think about zone and you don’t really think about pressure, and so it was more that their zone was a little bit passive, and it made us think and made us get back on our heels and get out of our rhythm,” he said.

The Pacers took a 7-3 lead before Anderson’s pressure took over a first half that saw the home team shoot only 39 percent from the floor. Anderson shot 50 percent from the floor in a half where field-goal percentage became even more important than usual as the teams went much of the half without shooting a single free throw.

That changed with 14 seconds remaining before the break, and the game changed with it.

With the Trojans leading 28-18, Pacer senior guard Daniela Tarailo hit a 3-pointer and got fouled in the process. Then she nailed the free throw to cut the visitors’ lead to six going into halftime.

Tarailo, who finished with a game-high 21 points, said she could feel the atmosphere at the Convocation Center change with her four-point play.

“I could hear the crowd getting into it a little bit more, my teammates starting to believe a little bit more,” she said. “You know, obviously it looks better on the scoreboard, and it looks better for us – it feels a lot better for us – being down single-digits and not double-digits going into the half, so it felt good.”

Brandt said the slimmer margin changed the way he approached his team at the half.

“I think that was a difference-maker there,” he said. “You’re looking at a 10-point deficit, and all of a sudden, you don’t cut it to eight or seven, but you cut it to six. So that was huge for us. You go in there with a 10-point deficit, it’s a lot tougher to talk to them, than going in there with a six point deficit.”

After halftime, the Pacers finished erasing the deficit. About 4 minutes had come off the clock when they took a 31-30 lead. While the home team never trailed during the game’s last 15 minutes or so, the Trojans didn’t go quietly. USCA never pushed its lead to greater than six points.

With less than 2 minutes to go in the game, the Trojans got even closer and trailed 58-57. None other than Tarailo ended the threat the next time the Pacers had the ball with another 3-pointer to give them a four-point lead that proved to be enough. The visitors made it a two-point game on their next trip down the court, but a pair of Brittany Hill free throws put the game away.

Despite the game-leading effort, Tarailo was disappointed with her 4-for-12 output from beyond the 3-point line. She said that while zone defense creates more open looks, she tends to get too hyped up as a shooter.

“Obviously I get excited, but I think sometimes I get too anxious,” she said. “Sometimes I actually like it better man-to-man because I take my time to find my shot.”

Kayla Harris scored 14 points, and Mia Antoine added 12 for the Pacers, who next play at Georgia Southwestern on Jan. 3.

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