COLUMBIA -- 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 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 adress 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 brought Temple to six NCAA tournaments in eight seasons, said she didn't plan on being too patient with his 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 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.
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.