Maci Morris scored a career-high 35 points, but the former Bell County star’s big game wasn’t nearly enough in Kentucky’s 81-63 loss to No. 8 South Carolina in Columbia.
Morris was 13-for-23 from the field, including five of nine on three-pointers. But the rest of the Wildcats combined to go 9-for-32 from the field.
A’ja Wilson scored 29 points and the Gamecocks had assists on 21 of their 26 baskets.
Wilson shot 9-for-16 from the field, made 11 of 12 free throws and had nine rebounds and five assists in just 26 minutes for South Carolina (22-5, 11-3 Southeastern Conference).
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“Great game for South Carolina today,” UK Coach Matthew Mitchell said. “We did not have an answer for A’ja Wilson today. She is an incredible player and has been tough to defend for the last four years. But credit South Carolina, they outhustled us today.”
Morris’ shooting and Kentucky’s collapsing defense kept the Wildcats (13-15, 5-9) in it for a quarter. But the Gamecocks held UK scoreless until two free throws with 4:17 left in the second quarter that cut South Carolina’s lead to 29-20.
Wilson, an All-America senior, would sit on the bench the rest of the first half. But South Carolina still managed to extend its lead by three points. The Gamecocks outscored the Wildcats 29-18 in the third quarter to put it away.
Morris is only the third player in program history to score 35 or more points in an SEC game, joining Makayla Epps and Valerie Still.
“She has worked really hard and we executed,” Mitchell said of Morris, whose previous career high was 29 points. “Her teammates helped her get open with some good screens but she really gave it a great effort. Tough kid.”
Senior Mackenzie Cann added nine points for Kentucky, and freshman Tatyana Wyatt had eight points and five rebounds.
The loss assured that Kentucky will finish with its first losing season in SEC play since 2009 and only the second in Mitchell’s 11 seasons.
Kentucky has won at least 10 SEC games each season since 2010 and hasn’t had an overall losing season since 2003-04. The loss also knocks Mitchell from second to third in wins by active SEC coaches. South Carolina Coach Dawn Staley passed him with her 108th league win.
The Gamecocks’ four-year run as Southeastern Conference regular-season champions ended Sunday. No. 2 Mississippi State defeated Texas A&M 76-55 to win the league outright.
But Sunday’s win by the Gamecocks did help them close in on another goal. They remain in sole possession of second place. The top four teams in the SEC get double byes in the conference tournament.
Kentucky at Mississippi
8:30 p.m. Thursday (SEC Network)