Mitchell on South Carolina's monster run
It’s seven minutes Kentucky wishes it could have back.
That’s the span of time the Cats went without scoring as No. 4 South Carolina rolled off 18 straight points to help pave the way for a 75-63 win over No. 25 UK on Thursday night.
“That was too much for us to overcome,” Coach Matthew Mitchell said after the loss, the Cats’ second straight after a five-game win streak. “That was a difficult part of the game for us, but you give them credit for playing really hard. They’re very talented.”
That seven-minute spree was fueled by lockdown defense and sent Kentucky into the half trailing 42-23, missing its final 12 shots of the half and making only two of its 15 tries in that quarter.
The 23 points tied for UK’s fewest points in a first half this season, and it was the first time this season that the Cats had given up 40 or more points in the first half.
“The inability to get the ball in the hole really deflated us and they ran out and got some transition points that turned into a lead we couldn’t overcome,” Mitchell continued.
While UK was keenly aware of just how long that field goal drought was and just how big the deficit was, South Carolina’s star player had no idea.
“I definitely didn’t know that,” forward A’ja Wilson said. “That’s a pretty good feeling for us, just keep pushing the ball in transition, getting scores, getting stops.”
Wilson and fellow forward Alaina Coates combined for 40 points and 27 rebounds in the Gamecocks’ fourth straight victory over Kentucky.
“Wilson and Coates are just a different level of athlete,” Mitchell said of the dynamic duo, who each scored 20 points in the win. “They’re fantastic athletes. They can really move and cause you so many problems.”
They were dominant on both ends of the floor, helping USC outrebound UK 40-29 while outscoring the Cats in the paint 34-20. Wilson had five of the Gamecocks’ eight blocked shots and Coates tied her career best with 18 rebounds.
South Carolina had more defensive rebounds (30) than UK had total rebounds.
“Coates and Wilson are just so tough there at the rim,” Mitchell said. “If you’re not making some shots, it can snowball pretty quick for you. You give them credit. They’re a tough team.”
In that seven-minute span, it was more than just Coates and Wilson, though. South Carolina scored from all over the floor, including three made three-pointers.
“We were pushing the ball,” Gamecocks Coach Dawn Staley said. “We didn’t rely on our half-court offense. We turned them over a little bit, got down the floor, got some easy buckets.
“We probably just took a page out of their book. They like to play fast and up-tempo. Sometimes when you’ve got a run going on like that, it’s hard to stop the bleeding.”
The bloodletting only looked to get worse as South Carolina grabbed its largest lead of the game, 57-30, on a three-pointer by Allisha Gray with 2:51 to play.
A quick timeout helped Kentucky (15-8, 6-4 Southeastern Conference) reset and keep it respectable.
“We were letting the scoreboard affect us,” Mitchell said of that timeout. “So we just tried to clear the slate there. … We started losing focus defensively and getting down on ourselves.
“I thought they really refocused and battled and gave a tremendous effort those last 14 minutes of the game. You build off that and sprint into the weekend.”
UK responded with a 10-0 flurry to end the third quarter, including back-to-back three-pointers for Makenzie Cann and Maci Morris that kept it from being a blowout.
The Cats were paced by Makayla Epps’ game-high 23 points and nine rebounds. Staley was pleased with her team being able to limit the senior star for parts of the game.
“We know when she touches the ball magical things happen,” South Carolina’s coach said of Epps. “She’s done it to this entire league for 3 1/2 years.”
Morris added 14 points. Alyssa Rice pitched in 10 points for the Cats, who shot 33.9 percent from the field compared to 50 percent for the Gamecocks (19-2, 9-1).
South Carolina has won four of its last five over the Cats, with UK making a return trip to Columbia to close out the regular season on Feb. 26. That game will come on the heels of Kentucky’s final home game against the league’s other top-five team, fifth-ranked Mississippi State.
Vanderbilt at No. 25 Kentucky
Noon Sunday (SEC Network)