After a tough loss to Missouri in which Coach Matthew Mitchell thought his team got pushed around and outhustled, the No. 25 Kentucky women’s basketball team must prepare for No. 4 South Carolina, which presents two All-Americans in the post and a host of other problems.
“It was not as if we didn’t hustle,” Mitchell said of the loss that snapped the Cats’ five-game win streak. “We just were outhustled. So you give Missouri the credit for that, but you’ve got to get that corrected between now and Thursday night. You’ve just got to play with a lot more energy and enthusiasm.”
South Carolina (18-2, 8-1 Southeastern Conference) comes off a close loss to unranked Tennessee on Monday, which snapped the Gamecocks’ 30-game home win streak. Front-court stars A’ja Wilson and Alaina Coates were limited in the Tennessee loss by fouls and held well below their averages. The 6-foot-5 Wilson leads the team in scoring with 16.7 points per game. The 6-4 Coates leads the team in rebounding with 11 boards per game and averages 13.7 points.
“They are really two of the premier post players in the country and they pose a great challenge for any team with their play,” Mitchell said. “If you sit around worrying about those two, all you’re going to do is worry because they are not going to probably lose any height or athleticism between now and Thursday night, so you’ve got to go play. Do what you do to the best of your ability.”
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That means Kentucky (15-7, 6-3) must try to get out in transition and makes some threes, Mitchell said. But the Wildcats also can’t shy away from the lane. The Cats must “try to spread the floor, try to drive the ball to the basket. Those two bigs are really tough in there so you got to be smart about your drives,” he added. “I just think it’s a posture that we have to take, an energetic, enthusiastic posture, great, great effort from our team and that will be important.”
Second-chance points became a huge factor for the Cats in the loss to Missouri. Kentucky beat Missouri on the offensive boards overall, but the Tigers grabbed seven in the second half, leading to 12 points. Eight of those points came during a key third period run where Missouri took the lead for good.
“Well, you know, we just missed some crucial box outs,” Mitchell said. “I just thought that Missouri just really played more physical. We got pushed under the basket. You know, if you’re under the basket you’re not getting a missed basket. All you’re going to do is the ball’s going to drop through if it’s made.”
Mitchell also bemoaned the number of drives in the paint Kentucky gave up Monday and said the Cats must do better. That starts with being more aggressive on offense and defense. South Carolina gets excellent play from its perimeter as well with guards Allisha Gray and Kaela Davis averaging 13.7 and 12.5 points per game, respectively.
“We’ve got to really get our players in the mindset of being on the attack,” Mitchell said. “This is grown-up basketball here. You’ve got to be ready to go out and give a great effort and turn it loose and go at them.”
No. 4 South Carolina at No. 25 Kentucky
When: 7 p.m.
TV: SEC Network
Radio: WLAP-AM 630
Records: South Carolina 18-2 (8-1 SEC), Kentucky 15-7 (6-3)
Series: Kentucky leads 33-25
Last meeting: South Carolina won 93-63 on March 5, 2016, in the semifinals of the SEC Tournament at Jacksonville, Fla.