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How exactly do you turn around a 12-16 college women's basketball team?
The answer for USC Spartanburg in 1992 may have been one of the most unorthodox ones in the history of the game. The school hired 23-year-old coach Peggy Sells, the youngest in Division I or II at the time, giving her the keys to the program.
And she made the engine run. After a two-point loss in the last minute to Wofford, the Lady Rifles reeled off 26 straight wins. At one point, Sells joked, "I'm surprised we haven't beaten the Chicago Bulls yet."
The Rifles tore through the Peach Belt, winning the regular season with a perfect 16-0 record before the winning streak came to an abrupt end in the finals of the Peach Belt Tournament to Augusta College, 69-60.
Hours later, the Rifles learned they would host the South Atlantic Regional in the Hodge Center as the No. 3 seed, earning the program's first bid to the 32-team Division II Tournament.
"I wasn't too surprised to find out we made it into the tournament," Sells said, "but I was surprised we got to host."
Host they did - one of the greatest women's basketball games in school history in front of one of the largest crowds for a women's basketball game ever at the Hodge.
Playing a St. Augustine's team that entered the game 23-5 and with one of the top players in the nation in Carolyn Brown, the Rifles immediately worked to stop the Falcons' high-flying offense, which averaged 87 points per game.
Using an aggressive effort on the glass, posting a 47-34 advantage in the game and a 21-9 run in the second half of the first half, the Rifles took a 32-30 lead into the locker room. In the second half, the Rifles continued to grow the lead, as jumper from Valerie Scott gave USCS a 10-point lead. A 14-4 run by the Falcons tied the game with 3:36 left and from there, the two teams battled back-and-forth.
Paula Blackwell hit a pair of free throws with 1:04 left to give USCS a 68-64 lead, but the Falcons answered as Brown hit a 3-pointer and added a running jumper with 15.9 seconds left to give St. Augustine's a 69-68 lead. The Rifles crossed midcourt with 8.2 seconds left and called timeout.
"We put the ball in someone's hands that we knew would come through for us," Sells said after the game.
Scott took an inbounds pass from Deedra Howard, drove the left side of the lane and drew the foul with 3.5 seconds left, hitting the free throw and sending USCS to the Sweet 16.
"(During the timeout), I thought they were coming to me," Scott said. "I just built my confidence up and I told myself, `I'm just going to lay it up.'"
A snowstorm and a few electrical outages seemed to cast a pall over the regional finals held the next day and USCS fell to Norfolk State, 75-68, but the mark the 1992-93 team left on the school's record book is still clear. A school-record 28 wins. A school-record 26 straight wins.
Not bad for a first-year coach as old as some of her players.
"If I was 0-11," Sells said, "they'd probably have been ready to fire me, saying she's too young and never should've taken the job."