Brittany Starling scored 18 points and pulled down 16 rebounds for her sixth consecutive double-double as USC Upstate defeated the Western Carolina Catamounts 68-59 inside the Hodge Center on Saturday.
Upstate enters conference play next week with a 9-6 record while Western Carolina falls to 3-10.
Starling finished in double figures for the 12th time this season and tied a career high with four blocks. Travonda Haddock scored 11 points with Tamera Thorpe and Kristen Dickerson adding 10. Raven Jefferson pulled down a new career-high 11 rebounds. Dickerson recorded a team-leading four assists.
Sherae Bonner recorded a double-double for the Catamounts with 13 points and 13 rebounds while Ace Easter also scored 13 points. Erika Joseph had 11 rebounds and five steals.
Upstate opened the contest on 10-0 run as Thorpe got the Spartans on the board with a three-pointer capped by a pair of Starling free throws. Bonner got the Catamounts on the board before an Easter three-pointer cut the Spartan lead in half. Raziyah Farrington brought the visitors to within three (14-11) with 4:47 to play in the quarter. A Thorpe layup pushed the Spartan lead to 21-14 as the opening quarter ended with the hosts holding a 21-16 lead.
A Simpson three-pointer followed by a Joseph steal and layup tied the game at 21 with 8:17 to play in the first half. Consecutive baskets by Starling and Jefferson gave Upstate a 25-21 advantage before an Easter three-pointer brought the Catamounts to within one. Easter’s three-pointer with 3:48 to go in the quarter tied the game at 29 before Jefferson completed the old-fashioned three-point play for a 32-29 Spartan edge. Bonner tied the game at 34 with a jumper inside the paint with 44 seconds to play before Thorpe stole the ball from Bonner and raced down the court for a buzzer-beating layup to give Upstate a 36-34 halftime lead.
Farrington cut the Spartan lead to 38-36 with a jumper at the 8:59 mark of the third quarter before the Spartans went on a 13-0 run capped by a pair of Jefferson free throws for a 51-36 lead with 1:44 remaining in the period. Western Carolina finished the quarter on a 6-0 run as Upstate led 51-42 after three quarters. The Spartans outscored WCU 15-8 in the period.
Haddock’s layup at the 6:45 mark of the fourth quarter gave Upstate a 57-44 lead before the Catamounts went on a 9-0 run to pull within four (57-53) following a Bonner jumper with 4:47 to play. Following a Starling layup, Kyia Hough sank two free throws to keep the Catamounts within four. Haddock gave the hosts a 62-55 lead with a three-pointer before Bonner kept Western Carolina within five thanks, 62-57, to a pair of free throws. Western Carolina would get no closer as a Brittany Clency scored the final six points of the game for the Spartans, including a three-pointer that gave Upstate a 66-57 edge with just under a minute to play.
Upstate finished 23-for-57 (40.4%) from the field with Western Carolina recorded a 22-for-66 mark (33.3%). The Catamounts finished 6-for-15 (40.0%) from behind the arc compared to 3-for-9 (33.3%) for the Spartans. The Spartans were 19-for-27 (70.4%) at the free throw line with WCU finishing 9-for-14 (64.3%). Upstate held a 48-43 advantage on the glass and outscored the Catamounts 38-12 in the paint.
The Spartans begin Atlantic Sun Conference play next Saturday at NJIT. Tip-off is scheduled for 1 p.m.