USC AIKEN 94, LENOIR-RHYNE 71
By NOAH FEIT
MORROW, Ga. — Since falling the semifinals of the Peach Belt Conference Tournament to Clayton State last Saturday, the USC Aiken women’s basketball team has looked forward to another opportunity to play the top-ranked team in the nation. Even before the Pacers were selected as the fifth-seeded team in the Division II NCAA Tournament Southeast Regional, they had their sights set on another contest with the Lakers.
Thanks to a lopsided 94-71 win over Lenoir-Rhyne, the fourth-seeded team in the regional held at the Athletics & Fitness Center on the campus of Clayton State, USCA will get its wish. For the third time this season the Pacers will try to knock off the undefeated Lakers (30-0) when the teams play in the regional semifinal today. Tip-off is scheduled for 7 p.m.
“We’re looking forward to it,” USCA head coach Mike Brandt said of facing Clayton State which has defeated the Pacers 56-50 and 75-62 this season. “It’s going to be tough, but it’s important that we pay our game. Our players are really confident we can beat them and spoil their dream season.”
USCA (22-7) dominated this one from the start, rushing out to a 9-1 advantage over the course of the first two minutes. By halftime, the Pacers opened up a 21-point lead at 52-31.
USCA shot 63.6 percent (21-for-33) in the first half. It built such a big lead by knocking down 60 percent (6-of-10) of its 3-point attempts.
“We came out outstanding and were very aggressive,” Brandt said. “We did a great job attacking on the break, moving the ball and getting good shots. I can’t say (enough) good things.”
Daniela Tarailo led the Pacers in the first half scoring all of 19 points on 7-of-8 shooting, knocking down five 3-pointers. Porsha Martin had 16 of her 18 points, while Mackenzie Reese came off the bench to score 11 of her game-high 20 points in the first half.
USCA opened the first three minutes of the second half on a 10-1 run to push its lead to 30 points at 62-32. It shot a scorching 60 percent (36-for-60) from the field. Reserve Kassy Johannsen finished the victory with a career-high 12 points and Mia Antoine added 10 points. Brittany Hill didn’t score but did dish out a game-high 10 assists to go along with her three steals.
Jazmine Charles and Danielle Bongiorno both scored 16 points to lead Lenoir-Rhyne in its loss.
The winner of tonight’s semifinal will advance to the regional championship game at 7 p.m. on Monday.
“There’s no pressure on us,” Brandt said. “All the pressure is on them.”
Noah Feit is the sports editor for the Aiken Standard and has been a professional journalist for more than a dozen years after graduating from Syracuse University.