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Feb. 14, 2013

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LEXINGTON, Ky. – No. 16/14 South Carolina saw a late run and clutch shooting in the final minute deliver a 78-74 loss at No. 9/7 Kentucky Thursday night at Memorial Coliseum. The Gamecocks (20-5, 8-4 SEC) shot a season-high 56.0 percent and scored more points than they had all season in SEC play, but the Wildcats (22-3, 10-2) broke a 72-72 tie in the final 1:14 to secure the win. Senior forward Ashley Bruner finished with a double-double, scoring 13 points to go with 10 rebounds. Aleighsa Welch and Elem Ibiam scored 15 points each to lead five Gamecocks in double figures.

The Gamecocks offense was on fire in the first half, scoring 44 points on 56.3 percent shooting. While out-rebounding the Wildcats 27-14 in the first 20 minutes, South Carolina got points from a typical sources as Ibiam and Asia Dozier led the way with 13 and 10 points, respectively. Each scored her points in bunches with Ibiam’s career-high mark coming in a six-minute stretch, and Dozier poured in hers over the course of the final four minutes of the period.

After withstanding the Wildcats’ initial surge, South Carolina matched Kentucky basket-for-basket but found itself down 16-13 with 12:09 left in the half. Undaunted, the Gamecocks put on a 13-2 run that gave them control of the half. Tiffany Mitchell got the surge started with a drive to get the Gamecocks within a point at 16-15. After Bruner pulled down a defensive rebound, Ibiam netted her first basket on a putback. A Kentucky turnover sent the Gamecocks back on offense, where Ibiam converted on the right block for a 20-16 South Carolina advantage. DeNesha Stallworth hit a bucket but missed the free throw that came with it. Welch doubled the Gamecocks’ lead, and Ibiam added a layup in transition. After a Welch defensive rebound, Mitchell’s transition layup capped the run and left South Carolina with a 26-18 advantage with 8:10 left in the half.

The Wildcats twice got within six points, but South Carolina closed the half on a 12-4 run sparked by 10 points from Dozier. She opened with a 3-pointer form the left corner, and, after a UK turnover, she adding a driving layup for a 37-26 lead, the Gamecocks’ largest of the half. Bria Goss hit a pair of free throws for the Wildcats, but it was just a blip as Dozier went back to work with a transition layup, and Bruner put back a miss to make it a 13-point margin. When Dozier capped the half with a 3 from the right wing just before the buzzer, the Gamecocks took a 14-point lead into the locker room.

Kentucky amped up the pressure early in the second half, being aggressive on both sides of the ball to cut the South Carolina lead in half with a 12- 5 run that left the Gamecocks up 49-42 just four minutes in to the period. The game see-sawed back and fourth with the Wildcats hovering around a six-point deficit thanks to repeated trips to the free throw line. Kentucky scored 12 points in a nearly six-minute span all from the charity stripe, and when Goss curled in the lane for a runner, the Wildcats were within two at 68-66 with 5:46 to play.

Both teams came up empty on three possessions as play got even more physical. After a defensive rebound, Kentucky looked to score in transition. The Gamecocks stopped the initial push, but A’dia Mathies trailed the play and a 3 from the right wing to put Kentucky up 69-68 with 3:46 to play. Bruner’s free throw tied it up, but Kastine Evans hit a 3-pointer from the left side for a 72-69 Wildcat advantage. The Gamecocks answered with a basket from Bruner underneath and a free throw from Khadijah Sessions to knot the game 72-72 with 1:14 to play.

After an offensive foul called on Kentucky, the Gamecocks misfired on the other end. Evans hit from the right block to put the Wildcats back in front as the home crowd reached a fever pitch with just 25 seconds on the clock. The Gamecocks looked to get the ball inside to Ibiam, but the lob over the defense sailed out of bounds. O’Neill hit a pair of free throws to stretch the lead to 76-72 with 16 seconds to play. Bruner scored a quick layup, but Evans sealed it at the free throw line.

South Carolina’s 44 points in the first half were the most for the Gamecocks since scoring 50 against North Carolina on Dec. 18, 2011. South Carolina won the rebound battle 40-33 and out-scored the Wildcats 44-32 in the paint. The Wildcats capitalized on 22 South Carolina turnovers, converting them into 24 points.

Dozier and Walker added 10 points each to join the other three Gamecocks in double figures. The Gamecocks also shot a season-high from the free throw line, converting 15-of-22 for 68.2 percent from the stripe.

South Carolina travels to Ole Miss for a 2 p.m. contest on Sun., Feb. 17, which will be televised by the SEC Network. The Gamecocks return to Colonial Life Arena on Sun., Feb. 24, when they will take on Mississippi State at 3 p.m.