COLUMBIA, SC – Senior Shameka Christon led all scorers with a season high 31 points to give the University of Arkansas a convincing 66-52 Southeastern Conference win over South Carolina at the Colonial Center.
Arkansas, 13-3, moves to 2-1 in league play while USC falls to 0-3, 8-7 overall. It was Arkansas’ first win in Columbia since the 1998-99 season.
Christon’s 14 first-half points tied the seniors’ best first half of the year, and her defensive work was crucial in disrupting the USC offense.
“We played great defense in the first half to hold them to only 18 points, and it started with Shameka,” UA head coach Susie Gardner said. “We played with a lot of emotion and fire in the first half.”
South Carolina’s leading scorer and point guard, Cristina Ciocan, was Christon’s matchup.
“We challenged Shameka to step up and play her best defense, and she did,” Gardner said. “That was probably our best beginning of the year.”
Christon was also motivated by the morning newspaper in Columbia.
“It said the way to stop Arkansas was to stop me,” Christon said. “It was a challenge, and coach wanted us to get out to a fast start. My goal was to keep her (Ciocan) from scoring.”
Coming into the game averaging 14.9 ppg, Ciocan had only four points, none off Christon’s defense.
The Gamecocks cut into Arkansas’ 10-point halftime lead behind freshman Lauren Simms’ four points to begin the second half, 28-22.
Arkansas responded with inside play from Nesby and Ruby Vaden to build its largest lead, 40-26, with 13:28 to play, before the Lady’Back offense stalled.
Carolina used the free throw line and lobs inside to Iva Sliskovic to trim Arkansas’ lead to only seven, 50-43, with four minutes to play.
“We knew that they would fight back, but that’s when we needed Shameka to step up and she did,” Gardner said. “She has a way of elevating, and she just seems to keep going up when she jumps. She was up and over their defenders.”
As the game tightened up, it was Christon that scored clutch jumper after clutch jumper to keep Carolina at bay.
“I wanted the shots,” Christon said. “I was feeling it, and the team kept giving it to me.”
Christon finished the game with 13-of-24 from the field, 2-of-5 from behind the arc.
Neither team shot well to open the game, but Arkansas’ defense held Carolina in check until Christon could break loose. The senior hit a pair of three-pointers sandwiched around a steal and breakaway layup to key a 10-0 run for a 16-5 lead.
Gardner put Christon on Carolina’s veteran point guard Ciocan from the opening tipoff, and the matchup frustrated the USC offense. Carolina managed to score only one field goal from its offense in the first 12 minutes of the game.
Lauren Simms’ three-pointer at 7:49 disrupted the Arkansas run, but Christon responded with five unanswered points to regain a 10-point, 21-11, lead.
The Lady’Back defensive scheme kept Carolina’s top scorer in check until a breakaway layup with 50 seconds left in the first half.
Carolina shot only 23.1% from the field to open the game and 14% from three-point range. While turnovers were almost even in the opening half, Arkansas converted USC’s nine mistakes into 15 of its halftime 28 points while the Gamecocks picked up only four from the Lady’Backs’ seven.
Morrone led USC with 15 points, 10 of which were scored in the latter part of the game. Simms finished with 10.
Arkansas got 11 from Katrina Nesby off the bench as the senior hit 5-of-6 from the field, and had back-to-back layups off Rochelle Vaughn feeds when USC attempted to box-and-one Christon in the last minutes.
Vaughn led all with nine assists and had nine rebounds to pace Arkansas.
The Lady’Backs return to Fayetteville to face LSU on Thursday evening at Bud Walton Arena.