Gamecocks Win SEC Title at No. 14 Kentucky
AP Sports Writer
LEXINGTON, Ky. (AP) Zia Cooke scored 20 points, and No. 1 South Carolina held 14th-ranked Kentucky to 30% shooting to win 67-58 on Sunday, earning its 21st consecutive victory.
The win, coupled with Mississippi State’s loss to Alabama earned the Gamecocks the Southeastern Conference regular season championship.
The Gamecocks (27-1, 14-0 Southeastern Conference) trailed early before outscoring the Wildcats 17-1 over the final 5:14 of the first quarter. Kentucky mounted several small rallies and got within 49-40 midway through the third, but South Carolina closed with a 10-3 spurt that included consecutive transition baskets by Cooke.
Kentucky (20-6, 9-5) outscored the Gamecocks 15-8 in the fourth but didn’t get within single digits until Rhyne Howard’s 3-pointer with 3 seconds remaining.
Mikiah Herbert Harrigan, Tyasha Harris and LeLe Grissett each scored 10 points for South Carolina. Freshman Aliyah Boston had 11 rebounds and six points as the Gamecocks dominated the inside 38-14 and won the rebounding battle 38-31 to give 12th-year coach Dawn Staley her 300th victory with the school.
South Carolina also earned its 11th win in 12 meetings vs. Wildcats.
Howard had 24 points and 11 rebounds for Kentucky, which shot 36% or worse in each quarter and just 18% in the fourth. The Wildcats had sought to beat their second top-10 team in as many weeks after beating then-No. 6 Mississippi last Sunday.
South Carolina: As usual, the Gamecocks controlled the paint with the wealth shared between the frontcourt and backcourt. They missed all five shots from beyond the arc, but it didn’t matter as they controlled other areas.
Kentucky: One game after ringing up a season-high 94 points at Mississippi, the Wildcats found chances and points hard to come by against a Gamecocks defense that entered the game ranked 18th nationally. Things were even tougher on the other end as they frequently struggled to keep South Carolina from driving the lane for baskets.
After the Wildcats went up 14-12 with 4:44 to go in the first quarter, the Gamecocks closed the period on a 15-0 run behind five turnovers and four single-shot possessions to wrest control of the game.
South Carolina dominated in the post on Sunday, outscoring the Wildcats 38-14 in the paint. In two games against Kentucky, South Carolina out-scored the Wildcats by a combined 98-38.
- The Gamecocks earned their fifth SEC Championship in the last seven seasons. It marks the most regular-season victories by a program since Tennessee won or shared seven titles 1998-2004.
- The title is the second SEC regular-season crown for Gamecock seniors Tyasha Harris and Mikiah Herbert Harrigan.
- The victory was also head coach Dawn Staley’s 300th at South Carolina.
- The South Carolina program recorded its 200th regular-season SEC victories today. Staley has been at the helm for 12 of the 28 seasons in the league, leading the program to 136 of those victories.
- Zia Cooke finished with 20 points after catching fire in the second half, scoring 13 of those points on 6-of-6 shooting in the period.
- In the first half, LeLe Grissett came off the bench to boost the Gamecocks, scoring 10 points and grabbing three offensive rebounds in the opening 20 minutes.
- Mikiah Herbert Harrigan just missed out on a double-double finishing with 10 points and eight rebounds.
- Tyasha Harris tallied a pair of steals to bring her career total to 214, putting her at 10th all-time in steals for the Gamecocks.
The Gamecocks (27-1, 14-0 SEC) travel to the swamp to face the Florida Gators on Thu., Feb. 27. Tipoff for that game is set for 6 p.m. ET and will stream live on SEC Network+.
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