By Jeremy Timmerman

The No. 4 USC Aiken women’s basketball team shot about as well as a team can shoot in the first half of Saturday’s home game against Montevallo. The Pacers cooled off considerably in the second half, but they had done enough damage to hold onto a 68-60 win.

Senior guard Daniela Tarailo, one of the team’s captains, led the charge. She knocked down five 3-pointers in the first half and six in all for 19 points to lead the home team to tie the program’s best winning streak at 12 games.

Tarailo said the hot shooting night was a result of her teammate’s efforts.

“My job is to come out and score and shoot 3s, and I just took what the defense gave me, and my teammates found me,” she said after setting a personal best for 3-pointers made in a game.

The Pacers shot at a 67 percent clip from the floor in the first half and nearly 78 percent from beyond the arc to cruise to a 42-23 halftime lead sparked by an 18-0 run.

USCA head coach Mike Brandt said the hot-shooting frame was the result of mental awareness on the offensive end.

“I just think that we came out very, very focused,” he said. “In the first half … we got some really good looks.”

The Pacers stretched their lead to as many as 24 in the second half, but the shots that were falling in the opening frame weren’t there in the second. In all, the home team shot 33 percent from the floor after halftime and its only made long-ball came from Tarailo early in the half.

The Falcons were able to trim the lead to as few as six with 49 seconds left in the game, but Porsha Martin and Brittany Hill each made a pair of free throws to stem the tide and give the home team a win.

Falcon head coach Cindy Hilbrich, formerly an assistant at USCA under Brandt, said that the second-half push came after defensive adjustments made based on her knowledge of the Pacers’ abilities.

“Our gameplan coming into the night was to not let them get any open shots, and we did not do that in the first half,” she said. “We knew that was something we could control in the second half.”

Hilbrich added that she could recognize the progression that players like Tarailo and Mia Antoine, both sophomores when she left the program, had made. Antoine scored eight points in the game, while Kayla Harris scored 14 points and hauled in a team-best seven rebounds and seven assists for the Pacers. Brittany Hill added 12 points for the home team.

Montevallo’s Taylor Beverly led all scorers with 27 points.

The Pacers will next host No. 3 Clayton State on Wednesday, and Brandt said that while he wasn’t pleased with his team’s offense in the second half, the close nature of the contest could benefit the Pacers against the Lakers.

“There’s some good teaching points and good learning points that we can get from that,” he said.

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