Pacer women stop Jaguars in second half
USC AIKEN 90, AUGUSTA 78
AUGUSTA — Eventually, someone had to miss.
After a first-half shooting clinic put on by both teams Monday night at Augusta’s Christenberry Fieldhouse, USC Aiken women’s basketball coach Mark Miller challenged his team to step it up on the defensive end of the floor and force some of Augusta University’s shots to fall anywhere but through the net.
The Pacers heeded Miller’s instructions, holding the Jaguars to 37.5 percent shooting in the second half after a 54.3 percent mark in the first half, and that led to even more offense for the Pacers in a 90-78 win.
“I challenged my kids at halftime to step up and do a better job defensively; make it tougher for them,” said Miller. “They’re a team that can score a lot of points. Our goal was to make it tough. They made some tough shots, and I thought the difference was we played better D in the second half.”
USCA (13-9, 9-4 Peach Belt Conference) shot just shy of 50 percent in the first half and still trailed 46-42 after 20 minutes, so something had to change. The Pacers challenged more shots and grabbed more loose balls when the Jaguars’ attempts finally stopped dropping, and that helped facilitate an offense that featured five players in double figures.
Rocky Aupont made six of her 10 3-point attempts and led the Pacers with 19 points. Carly Gilreath scored 17 and dished out six assists, and Kate Duff (16), Kwajelin Farrar (14) and Emily Waters (10) gave USCA more than enough scoring options when they had the basketball.
“We’ve got some different weapons. It’s nice to see when you’ve got four, five kids in double figures,” said Miller. “But more importantly for us is that we played great D, we rebounded and we didn’t turn the ball over, so it gives us good shots. I think we’ve got players who can make shots, and we work hard to get our good shots.”
Breonna O’Conner led Augusta (10-8, 5-7) with a game-high 22 points, and she was one of four Jaguars in double figures. But they cooled down significantly in the second half after playing at such a fast pace in the first 20 minutes.
The Pacers won the rebounding battle, 41-31, and they scored 17 second-chance points. Jasmine Coach led the Pacers with 10 boards, including five on the offensive glass. USCA turned it over just 11 times and converted 13 Augusta turnovers into 14 points.
USCA took a 63-58 lead into the fourth quarter and put the game away midway through it. Aupont 3-pointers bookended an 11-2 run that gave the Pacers an 83-70 edge with just 3:43 to play.
The win was USCA’s first over Augusta since Feb. 26, 2014, and the Pacers’ 90 points marked their highest offensive output of the season and largest point total since they scored 93 – in two overtimes – in Dec. 2015 against Shaw.
The Pacers have won three of their last four and remain in second place in the PBC East Division. They’ve won nine of their last 11 conference games after starting the league schedule 0-2.
“We’ve talked about from day one our process. Our kids have really bought into the process. We continue to get better with the process, and we keep working,” said Miller. “Our roles have become a little more defined, and our team is buying into what I’m trying to do, and I think that’s the big part of it.”