Gamecock Women Start 2014 With Win

Junior center Miranda Cantrell

Junior center Miranda Cantrell

BIRMINGHAM– Head coach Rick Pietri did not remind his Gamecocks of their heartbreaking 48-45 loss to Samford from last season prior to Wednesday’s game.

But, Junior center Miranda Cantrell did not forget it. Her career high 22 points, eight rebound performance helped lead the Gamecocks to a 60-54 win over the Bulldogs.

“Before the game,” Cantrell said, “I thought about it plenty of times. I thought about how we should have won last year and how we owed them. We needed to get this win today.”

In last season’s meeting, Samford overcame an eight-point deficit in the final six minutes of the game to defeat the Gamecocks. Shelby Campbell gave the Bulldogs the lead with a 3-pointer in the final minute and the Gamecocks never scored again.

In this season’s meeting, Campbell hit a 3-pointer with 25 seconds remaining. This time, it left the Bulldogs still trailing 55-52.

“That was on me,” Pietri said. “We called a timeout after the next possession We talked about changing our coverage. They were not able then to get free from the arch anymore. At that point, if they were going to score, it was going to have to be close to the goal.”

The Bulldogs (3-10) managed to get close for one more basket. However, the closest the Gamecocks (4-11) got in the final seven minutes was the free-throw line. After junior guard Candace Morton was fouled while making a 3-pointer, the Gamecocks’ final 13 points came from free-throws.

Morton and Cantrell  made nine of those final 13 free-throws. Morton finished with just shy of a double-double with 18 points, nine rebounds, five assists and a block. While Cantrell drew motivation from the 2012 loss to Samford, Morton could only think about the 2011 loss.

Junior guard Candace Morton

Junior guard Candace Morton

“The year before,” Morton said, “we came in here and they served us a good one. It felt really good to come back and beat them in their house.”

Wednesday’s win wrapped up the Gamecocks’  non-conference schedule. They only went 4-9, but Pietri believes there is still plenty to be proud of.

“Nobody on this roster has ever won this many non-conference games in a season,” Pietri said. “That’s kind of a milestone right there. That milestone can trigger some belief that once we get to the conference season, we can find ways to finish games just like we finished this one.”

Morton and Cantrell referred to the win as a “confidence builder.”

“In the non-conference games,” Cantrell said, “we’ve been down, but we’ve been able to fight back and get back into the game. We know we can fight and compete with some of the best. We know when we hit conference, we’re going to be a competitor this year.”

Added Morton: “We came off playing some of the top teams in the OVC and we came up a little short here and there. But, today was a good game. We could finally put it all together and come up with a good win to get our confidence back up going back into conference play.”

The Gamecocks look for their first OVC win Saturday in Nashville against Tennessee State.

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