Jan. 14, 2016
LEXINGTON, Ky. – No. 2/2 South Carolina shook off a slow shooting start and rallied from a 4-point halftime deficit to defeat No. 9/9 Kentucky (13-2, 2-2 SEC), 73-62, Thursday night on the road at Memorial Coliseum. The Gamecocks (16-0, 4-0 SEC) grabbed the lead late in the third quarter and used a 12-0 run midway through the final period to pull away and secure the victory.
Forward A’ja Wilson tallied 15 second-half points and fell two blocks short of a triple-double, as she finished with a game-high 26 points to go along with 13 rebounds. Her eight blocks marked a career high for the sophomore, while guard Tiffany Mitchell chipped in 16 points after scoring nine points over the final 20 minutes.
Both offenses struggled out of the gate, combining to go 1-of-7 from the floor in the opening minutes. South Carolina’s shooters remained cold early on, and a 3-pointer by guard Maci Morris capped a 7-0 run for Kentucky and gave the Wildcats an 11-3 lead midway through the first quarter. Senior guard Tina Roy’s 3-pointer from the corner cut the Wildcat lead to 14-8 late in the period before Kentucky scored in transition to take a 16-8 advantage into the second period. The Gamecocks’ eight points in the opening 10 minutes marked a season low in a quarter for them.
The teams traded baskets in the early stages of the second period with Mitchell and Wilson both knocking down field goals to keep South Carolina within 10 points of the lead. The pair continued to pace the South Carolina offense, as a bucket inside from Wilson followed by Mitchell’s first 3-pointer of the night brought South Carolina to within six at 30-24 with 2:50 left in the half. Wilson took over down the stretch, adding two more buckets to finish the half with 11 points and six rebounds for a South Carolina team that headed to the locker room trailing, 32-28. Kentucky boasted a 24-12 advantage in points in the paint and outrebounded the Gamecocks, 24-22, over the first two periods.
The Wildcats scored six of the second half’s first eight points to make it 38-30, as they took advantage of three South Carolina turnovers out of the break. Wilson’s seventh field goal of the night cut the deficit to 40-35 with 6:16 left in the third quarter, and a nifty basket down low from Mitchell less than one minute later made it a 3-point game at 40-37.
Kentucky’s advantage grew to 47-40 following another basket in the paint by Evelyn Akhator, but South Carolina responded with a 9-1 run to take its first lead of the half late in the quarter. Mitchell’s clutch 3-point play highlighted the turnaround, and another basket by Wilson helped give the Gamecocks a 51-50 lead heading into the final period.
A layup by Khadijah Sessions early in the fourth quarter gave South Carolina a 55-52 lead, and a 3-pointer by the senior guard made it 61-56 with 6:33 left in the contest. The Gamecocks quickly seized control of the game the rest of the way behind Wilson, who scored six of South Carolina’s next eight points to make it 69-58 with 4:12 left to play. Kentucky wouldn’t get any closer and a pair of free throws from Mitchell and junior forward Alaina Coates gave South Carolina a 73-58 advantage with just under two minutes left in the game. The Wildcats missed nine of their final 11 field goal attempts and scored just four points over the final six minutes of the contest.
Guards Makayla Epps and Janee Thompson each scored 16 points for the Wildcats, who committed 13 turnovers on the night. South Carolina sported a 44-43 rebound advantage and shot 41.3 percent from the floor and 42.3 percent from the 3-point line. Roy marked the third Gamecock in double figures on Thursday, as she finished with 12 points after knocking down four 3-pointers.
After two free throws brought Kentucky within three points of the lead (61-58) midway through the fourth quarter, the Gamecocks went on a 12-0 run to take control of the game down the stretch. Wilson and Mitchell scored 10 of South Carolina’s 12 points during the run.
The Gamecocks bounced back from a poor first-half shooting performance, as they connected on 16 of their 30 field goal attempts (53.3 percent) in the final 20 minutes of the contest.
- Forward A’ja Wilson has averaged 7.0 blocks per game over her last two contests. She has set career highs in blocks in each of her last two outings.
- Thursday’s victory marked South Carolina’s fifth win over a ranked opponent this season. Three of those victories have come by double-digits.
- Guard Tina Roy is averaging 4.0 made 3-pointers in SEC play this season after converting four more field goals from behind the arc against the Wildcats.
- Thursday marked the third time this season that the Gamecocks have finished a game with at least 10 blocks. It was the first time they reached double-digit blocks in league play.
South Carolina Head Coach Dawn Staley
On what it took to win
“We made an effort to give our post players the ball, and that opened the game up for us. We’re a team full of experienced players and seniors that have been in this situation before. We relied heavily on them tonight. They’re resilient and have the upmost confidence in each other.”
The Gamecocks continue SEC play on Sun., Jan. 17, when they hosts No. 15/11 Texas A&M. Tipoff from the Colonial Life Arena is set for 1:30 p.m., and the contest can be seen on ESPN2. div>