No. 2 South Carolina recovers to beat No. 17 Wildcats 76-55
AP Sports Writer
COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) Zia Cooke scored 21 points and No. 2 South Carolina got back on track after its first Southeastern Conference loss in two seasons with a 76-55 victory over No. 17 Kentucky on Sunday.
The Gamecocks (18-3, 13-1 SEC) had won 31 straight over league opponents before blowing a double-digit, second-half lead at No. 21 Tennessee this past Thursday night.
Cooke and South Carolina’s stingy defense ensured it wouldn’t be two straight defeats. The Gamecocks held Rhyne Howard to 12 points on 2-of-11 shooting as senior LeLe Grissett shadowed the Kentucky star much of the game.
Point guard Destanni Henderson added 14 points as the Gamecocks’ backcourt took control in a game where standout center Aliyah Boston finished with a season-low four points, nine fewer than her average coming in.
South Carolina broke out quickly in the second half as Grissett and Henderson had baskets to open a 38-30 lead.
A time out by Kentucky (15-6, 8-5) less than a minute in didn’t stop the Gamecocks’ charge and when Cooke drove to the hoop for a layup, got fouled and hit the free throw, they were up 43-32 and cruising to their fourth straight over the Wildcats.
Cooke said losing at Tennessee after lead 37-21 was a ”bummer” because of how hard they worked. ”But we came together, we practiced hard and knew we’d come out victorious if we stuck with the game plan.”
Kentucky entered pointing to this one. After all, the Wildcats held a nine-point lead at home on South Carolina last month before falling 75-70.
But they couldn’t get past South Carolina’s relentless defensive pressure. The Wildcats had just eight field goals and Howard was scoreless over the first 17 minutes as they fell behind 31-21.
Howard, however, broke free with a pair of 3-pointers to lead a 9-2 Kentucky burst down the stretch and trailed just 34-30 at the half.
South Carolina blunted any hopes of Kentucky rally with their fast start to the third quarter. The Gamecocks held Howard to just six foul shots in the final 20 minutes as she missed all six of her field goal tries after halftime.
Grissett said Howard was the most important person on the court for Kentucky and the Gamecocks made sure to make it difficult on her. ”Just lock in and focus what’s in front of us,” she said.
Grissett, the team’s lone senior honored before tipoff, had 13 points and Laeticia Amihere had 12 points and 12 rebounds for her third double-double this season.
Kentucky coach Kyra Elzy didn’t think Howard was off her game, instead crediting South Carolina with defensing her side of the floor to take away open shots. Elzy said the loss was as much her team’s struggles to rebound.
”We did not have the toughness we needed to rebound,” she said.
THE BIG PICTURE
Kentucky: The Wildcats have had their problems with South Carolina the past few seasons, losing 13 of the last 14. When Howard struggles as she did against the Gamecocks, it makes things that much harder for Kentucky.
South Carolina: The Gamecocks played more through Boston and, while she didn’t score much, the ball flowed more smoothly to Cooke and Henderson on the outside for open looks. Boston still had an impact with 10 rebounds, three assists, two blocks and two steals.
After Kentucky took the lead with a Jazmine Massengill three to open the second quarter, senior LeLe Grissett started a 10-0 run for the Gamecocks, accounting for six of those 10 points herself and finishing layups on back-to-back possessions, to put the Garnet and Black in front for good.
Carrying a 15-point lead into the final period, South Carolina did not let off the gas, smothering the Wildcats in the fourth, holding Kentucky to 2-of-14 shooting (.143) while the Carolina offense went 8-of-14 to secure the 21-point victory.
- The Gamecocks controlled the glass all afternoon, outrebounding Kentucky 49-30, with a 20-8 edge on the offensive glass. This is the seventh game against ranked opponents where South Carolina held a double-digit rebounding advantage this season.
- Sophomore Zia Cooke came out hot with eight first-quarter points and helped put the game on ice with 11 points in the third on her way to a game-high 21 points. Cooke has cracked double figures in 10 straight games, and this is her fourth 20-point game of the season.
- Senior LeLe Grissett celebrated her Senior Day in style, dropping six of her 13 points during Carolina’s 10-0 run in the second. Grissett also pulled down six rebounds and blocked a pair of shots.
- Junior Destanni Henderson cooled off a potential Kentucky run with five quick points in the second quarter and got hot to score six more in the third before finishing with 14, her fifth straight game in double figures.
- Sophomore Laeticia Amihere caught fire in the fourth, scoring six of her season-best 12 points and pulling down five of her 13 rebounds in the final frame to notch her third career double-double, and her first against SEC competition.
- Sophomore Aliyah Boston continued to show of her versatility against Kentucky. While continuing her streak of double-digit rebound games, now at five, she added three assists, two steals and two blocks to the winning effort.
The No. 2/3 Gamecocks (18-3, 13-1 SEC) finish their home slate when the Ole Miss Rebels (9-9, 3-9 SEC) come to Colonial Life Arena on Thursday. Tipoff time will be announced soon.
More AP women’s college basketball: https://apnews.com/hub/womens-college-basketball and https://twitter.com/AP-Top25