Nov. 19, 2008
COLUMBIA (AP)- Dawn Staley had hoped to start her home career at South Carolina in perhaps the best way a Gamecock coach can. Instead, it was Clemson coach Cristy McKinney and junior Lele Hardy, a former Spartanburg star, who stole the show from the rivalry’s newest coach.
Hardy had 17 points, nine rebounds and seven steals to help the Lady Tigers end a three-game losing streak to their state rivals in a 52-45 win on Wednesday night.
Clemson started on an 11-2 run and held on to spoil Staley’s first game at Colonial Life Arena.
“We wanted to get off to a good start,” McKinney said. “We talked about how the crowd was going to be into it, Dawn’s first home game and how fired up the team was going to be with the crowd, and if we could play early and try and control the crowd that could help.”
It sure did.
The Lady Tigers (2-1) opened up a 27-10 lead midway through the opening period that South Carolina (0-2) could not overcome.
“I was shocked,” South Carolina freshman Miranda Tate said of Clemson’s large lead. “We picked it up. We fought hard, but we got down too much.”
The Gamecocks scratched within 49-44 after two straight driving layups by Lakeisa Sutton, the second which came with 3:32 to go. However, Hardy followed with two foul shots and South Carolina was held scoreless until Sutton’s bucket with 12 seconds left.
When it was over, Clemson’s players leaped and cheered.
Staley took the public address microphone and thanked the close to 3,000 fans for attending.
“Unfortunately, we didn’t get the victory,” she said. “But there aren’t going to be many days like this.”
Staley, the three-time Olympic gold medal winner, took over in May for Susan Walvius, who stepped down after 11 seasons.
Back then Staley, who took Temple to six NCAA tournaments in eight seasons, said she didn’t plan on being too patient with her young, untested club.
“We padded in the fact that we are inexperienced,” she said Wednesday. “That has nothing to do with effort. You can’t teach it. You can’t coach it. They have to do that.”
The Gamecocks “have a coaching staff that has a lot of mojo,” Staley continued. “We come in and think we’re going to outcoach the opposing team’s coaching staff. They have to come in and think they’re going to outplay the other team no matter how many all-Americans are on the other bench.”
Staley’s theory will get tested this season. The Gamecocks take on all of last year’s Final Four teams – Stanford on Dec. 19, Connecticut on Dec. 28, national champion Tennessee on Jan. 18 and LSU on Jan. 29.
The Gamecocks struggled enough containing Hardy, a former South Carolina Miss Basketball who said she was recruited hard by the former Gamecocks staff but longed to come to Clemson.
Hardy had an early 3-pointer to make it 5-0, then added a pair of foul shots and a bucket to increase the Lady Tigers’ lead to 19-8.
Another Hardy basket with 4:57 left in the half made it 29-12.
South Carolina closed things to 31-24 by the break, but Hardy stretched things out again with two more baskets to start the second half.
Hardy said the Lady Tigers stayed poised despite South Carolina’s rally.
“In the locker room at halftime, we heard people say we had a 17-point lead but we could get it back up if we kept our composure,” Hardy said.
The victory was a sweet one as well for McKinney, who hadn’t beaten rival South Carolina since coming to Clemson before the 2005-06 season.
“They’ve been nice to me,” McKinney said, smiling. “They don’t have to say it, but I know how important defeating the Gamecocks is for any Clemson coach.”
For Staley, she’ll have to wait until next season for that feeling. More pressing, though, would be her first win as Gamecocks coach. The next chance comes Monday night against Davidson.
Staley was grateful for the crowd’s energy and hopes it continues all season. “When we were making a comeback, they were feeling it,” Staley said. “They were trying hard. But closeness only counts in horseshoes. We have to win.”
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