Jan. 11, 2015
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|SCORE BY PERIODS|
|#10/11 Kentucky (14-3, 3-1 SEC)||38||22||60|
|#1 South Carolina (16-0, 4-0 SEC)||35||33||68|
|Khadijah Sessions & Aleighsa Welch|
COLUMBIA, S.C. – No. 1/1 South Carolina physical play, tough shooting and a three-point halftime deficit to post a 68-60 win over No. 10/11 Kentucky Sunday afternoon at Colonial Life Arena. Junior Tiffany Mitchell scored 13 of her game-high 19 points in the second half as the Gamecocks (16-0, 4-0 SEC) held the Wildcats to just 23.5 percent shooting over the final 20 minutes. The lead changed hands eight times, but just three of those came in the second half as South Carolina got timely 3s from Asia Dozier and Khadijah Sessions midway through the period to keep Kentucky on its heels. Senior Aleighsa Welch narrowly missed her first double-double of the season, reeling in a season-high 11 rebounds, including nine in the pivotal second half.
South Carolina jumped out to a 9-3 lead behind a rowdy home crowd, but the Wildcats took advantage of a turnover and defensive rebounding to push the ball in transition and pull ahead by one. The lead changed hands five times with two ties in the first half as neither team could wrestle control.
After tying the game at 20-20 with a spin move in the lane, A’ja Wilson followed with a fierce rejection on the other end. A Gamecock turnover led to a transition layup from Linnae Harper, who also hit a pull-up after a defensive rebound to put the Wildcats up 24-20 with just under eight minutes to play. Kentucky’s twice pushed the lead to seven with good work on the glass, leading 32-25 with 4:24 left in the half.
The Gamecocks chipped away at the margin, beginning with a transition layup off a steal from Khadijah Sessions. Alaina Coates cleaned up a Wildcat miss, and Tiffany Mitchell converted a pair of free throws after a hard foul inside to pull South Carolina within three at 32-29 with just under three minutes left before the break. Neither team converted on its next two possessions, but the Wildcats answered first with an easy bucket from Alexis Jennings after another Gamecock turnover. Elem Ibiam was fouled on the next trip up the floor, and the senior converted both ends of a 1-and-1 to make it 34-31 Kentucky. Free throws from Jennings re-established a five-point lead, but the Gamecocks and their fans were finding their voice. Tina Roy lobbed a pass to a diving Aleighsa Welch, who converted underneath, and a Mitchell defensive rebound found Roy in transition to bring the Gamecocks within one at 36-35. Janee Thompson closed the half with a driving layup to send Kentucky into the locker room with a 38-35 advantage.
South Carolina opened the half looking to take control as Mitchell opened the scoring with a baseline drive and layup. Dozier wrangled a rebound after a missed Kentucky 3 on the other end, and Ibiam finished after being set up by Welch in the post. Mitchell tied the game for the first time since 20-20 midway through the first half with a free throw, and the Gamecocks took the lead on an Ibiam putback. Wilson scored on an inbounds play to cap the 9-2 run that open the half, giving South Carolina a 44-40 advantage with 15:24 to play.
The lead stretched to six on a Wilson free throw, but a Gamecock turnover led to a transition layup from Jennifer O’Neill cut it back to four, 50-46, with 11:12 to play. South Carolina turned it over on the next possession, but Welch kept the Wildcats off the board with a defensive rebound. The Gamecock veterans delivered on the other end after Wilson could not connect on a jumper that failed to catch the rim. Welch corralled the offensive rebound, and Sessions got the ball with the shot clock running down. Although closely guarded, the senior took an off-balance 3 that rattled home for a 53-46 advantage.
Session’s triple fired up the 17,000+ fans at Colonial Life Arena again, and the Wildcats felt the pressure. South Carolina continued to struggle from the field, but Kentucky sent them to the free throw line as Welch and Coates worked the glass. Trailing 48-57, the Wildcats got some life with a 3-pointer from Thompson with just under six minutes to go.
When Jennings hit from the left block to make it a 59-53 game with under five to play, South Carolina missed on the offensive end but Welch reeled in a missed 3 from Jennifer O’Neill, and the Gamecocks headed back the other way. Head coach Dawn Staley called a timeout to organize her team for the important possession. On the ensuing in-bounds play, Thompson and Sessions got tangled up with Thompson suffering a graphic injury that rattled both benches and delayed the game several minutes.
In a tough situation, the Gamecocks called on their veteran leadership to refocus on the remaining four minutes of the game. When the possession restarted, Wilson could not connect on a jumper, but her rebound began a series of four offensive boards in the possession, the last pulled down by Mitchell, who was fouled on her putback attempt. The junior two more to make it a 61-53 Gamecock advantage with 3:33 on the clock.
The final emotional turning point in a hard-fought game came after Welch was fouled on a defensive rebound, leading to two technical for the Kentucky bench. Mitchell hit the resulting four free throws to put the Gamecocks up by double digits for the first time, and Kentucky could not recover from the momentum swing.
Mitchell was stellar from the free throw line, draining 11-of-12 on her way to a game-high 19 points. Sessions was the only other Gamecock to reach double figures, going 3-of-6 from behind the arc on the way to a season-high 12 points. Wilson came up just shy of her fifth double-double with eight points and nine rebounds. South Carolina was balanced in the scoring column with nine different Gamecocks scoring at least two points.
Khadijah Sessions hit an off-balance 3 at the end of the shot clock to launch a 5-0 run that turned a 50-46 Gamecock lead into a nine-point advantage with 7:46 to play.
KEY STAT Tiffany Mitchell was 11-of-12 from the free-throw line, including 9-of-10 in the second half. Four of those came after two technical fouls were called in succession on the Kentucky bench, which pushed the Gamecocks’ lead to 12 with 2:15 to play.
- Today’s attendance of 17,156 is second only to Colonial Life Arena’s inaugural night in 2002 and is just the second crowd of over 17,000 in the arena’s history.
- With the win, South Carolina owns the longest active winning streak in the nation at 26 games.
- Neither team shot over 30 percent in the second half, but the Gamecocks out-scored the Wildcats 33-22 in the period, behind a 35-17 rebounding advantage.
- Jatarie White returned to action after missing nine games due to a foot injury. White logged five minutes and pulled down three rebounds while registering a blocked shot.
QUOTABLE South Carolina Head Coach Dawn Staley
On play of junior guard Khadijah Sessions
“I think Khadijah always gets up for games with Kentucky. It’s our rival; it’s always a team that is a top team in the country, and you want your student-athletes to be able to rise to the occasion. I thought Khadijah played inspiring basketball today. She was motivated on both sides of the ball, and she found her way into double digits. I don’t think she has done that this season, so her offense came in a time in which we needed it.”
The Gamecocks hit the road for a pair of league contests at Missouri at 9 p.m. on Thur., Jan 15, and at Florida on Mon., Jan. 19 at 7 p.m.
TWEETS OF THE GAME
Gametime for @GamecockWBB ! Big time atmosphere again today. #Gamecocks #SEC pic.twitter.com/LJUZqlNJuf
— Brandon Bookstaver (@BBookstaver_USC) January 11, 2015
Crazy second half, but a great win for @GamecockWBB. Go #Gamecocks! #gococks #undefeated #uofsc
— Brooke Bailey (@BrookeUSC) January 11, 2015