Kentucky women whip top-seeded South Carolina, advance to SEC finals

jsmith3@herald-leader.comMarch 8, 2014 


    SEC championship: Kentucky vs. Tennessee

    When: 3:30 p.m.

    TV/radio: ESPN; WLAP-AM 630

DULUTH, Ga. — Film study, especially in the middle of a post-season tournament, is supposed to be a serious matter.

Kentucky's Matthew Mitchell has made it a laughing matter.

Before his No. 12 Cats were to meet fifth-ranked South Carolina in Saturday's Southeastern Conference Tournament semifinals, he turned UK's film session into an impromptu comedy show.

He showed clips over and over of senior DeNesha Stallworth taking a charge, her only one of the season so far.

With remote in hand, the Cats coach sped up the opposing player and put her in slow motion before she smacked into the UK forward.

"It's like the old eight-millimeter projector and you can run it back and forward, so it's pretty comical," he said. "We'd have her go up and down, up and down."

Things like that have kept the mood up and lightened the emotional load on Kentucky and helped the Cats upset the SEC regular-season champions 68-58 on Saturday at The Arena at Gwinnett Center.

Mitchell also showed clips of freshman Makayla Epps, who gets so amped up that she sometimes trips mid-game, falling down over and over again.

"We wanted to come down here and have fun together off the court and make plays on the court that would make it fun on the court," he said. "So I've tried to have a good time with them and I'm real proud of them."

Kentucky is having so much fun that's it's been able to crash the party, knocking off two teams that swept the Cats in the regular season on consecutive days.

UK is going to laugh its way into the title game for the fourth time in five seasons to face No. 6 Tennessee on Sunday at 3:30 p.m.

Win or lose, the Cats have tried to have a good time rebounding from the team that was 5-5 in league play a month ago to a team that has won seven of its past eight games.

They had a good time from the start against the Gamecocks (27-4), who handed UK the only loss in that span. It also happened to be the worst loss of the season for Kentucky.

Instead of worrying about the past or the next game on the schedule, Mitchell told them to focus in on being the aggressor.

"Attack, attack, attack," Stallworth said. "The goal was to attack and then the outcome would follow."

The attack Cats (24-7) were able to force 11 South Carolina turnovers in the first 13 minutes while rolling out to a 12-2 lead early. It was a lot of miscues for South Carolina, which came into the game averaging 14.5 a game.

They scored the game's first points but then went seven minutes without scoring again.

The Cats expanded their advantage to as many as 13 points late in the first half on Bria Goss's step-back three-pointer, her second straight long-range bomb.

Those shots were a part of eight straight points for the junior guard's 10 points at the half. She finished with a team-high 14 points.

Stallworth and Linnae Harper added 12 points apiece for the Cats, who turned the ball over just five times in the loss while forcing South Carolina into 16.

"This is the first I've seen our team play this poorly all season long," South Carolina Coach Dawn Staley said. "Obviously the first half was one that we couldn't recover from.

"It was all us making really uncharacteristic decisions with the basketball. It came from everywhere."

South Carolina cut it to six points once with 6:47 to go in the first half, but never got closer than eight the rest of the way.

Kentucky didn't want to take its foot off the gas.

"We owed them something," said Epps, who with her 10 points was one of seven UK players to finish with at least five points. "Everybody was real up for this. They got us twice, two good times."

The Gamecocks (27-4) were able to cut the Cats' lead to single digits twice early in the second half, the last on a Aleighsa Welch layup with 14:38 to play before UK used a 7-2 run to expand its lead to 13 points again on a jumper by Harper.

With six minutes to go, a Welch jumper cut the lead to eight again, 56-48. She had a chance to cut it to six a minute later but missed both free throws and Kentucky responded with a 9-3 run to eliminate any doubts.

"We wanted it," Stallworth said. "I mean, at the end of the day we just wanted to win."

They just wanted to keep laughing right into the championship.

Jennifer Smith: (859) 231-3241. Twitter: @jenheraldleader. Blog:

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