UK Women's Basketball

South Carolina women climb out of 11-point hole to beat Kentucky

Epps on the break out early for the Cats vs S.Carolina. Photo via Twitter.
Epps on the break out early for the Cats vs S.Carolina. Photo via Twitter. Lexington

It was a simple, succinct summary.

“They had A’ja Wilson and we didn’t,” Kentucky Coach Matthew Mitchell said Thursday night. “She was tough to stop in there.”

South Carolina’s sophomore sensation was tough to stop everywhere in the second-ranked Gamecocks’ 73-62 victory over No. 9 Kentucky at Memorial Coliseum.

With 26 points, the 6-foot-5 forward was two points short of matching her career high and two blocked shots shy of a triple-double with 13 rebounds and eight blocks to help No. 2 South Carolina stay unbeaten.

“That’s NBA numbers,” UK’s Makayla Epps of Wilson. “Very skilled, very talented kid. Gotta respect her for what she does.”

Has UK ever faced a player like Wilson? Epps smiled.

“The only thing close to Wilson we play is Coach Amadou in practice,” she said of 6-foot-5 assistant coach Adeniyi Amadou. “That’s just being realistic.”

After starting the game with a jolt, Kentucky ended the night with a thud, going for nearly six minutes without a field goal and allowing the Gamecocks to go on a 12-0 run that ultimately put the game mostly out of reach.

“We made too many mental mistakes as the game wore on,” Mitchell said. “I wish the outcome had been better, but this is a game we need to learn from, and I believe we can.”

Fueled by transition baskets, Kentucky led by as many as 11 points early, holding South Carolina to a season-low eight points in the first quarter.

The lead dwindled to four by halftime, 32-28, after the Gamecocks brought two-time Southeastern Conference Player of the Year Tiffany Mitchell back off the bench after the guard collected two quick fouls and sat for a bit.

“We came out and we punched them in the mouth early; you could kind of tell by their reactions early,” Epps said. “They just adjusted really well at halftime.”

That adjustment included shooting 69.2 percent in the third quarter and 53.3 percent in the second half, when the Gamecocks (16-0, 4-0 SEC) put the game away.

“This was a huge win,” said Tiffany Mitchell, who had 16 points for the winners. “Coach (Dawn) Staley said this was our second time winning here in eight years, so this is huge. … This was a big win for us and our program.”

It was a big win via a big player in Wilson, who put South Carolina up for good 58-56 with 7:01 to play. She helped fuel the Gamecocks’ big, decisive run.

“This one is very frustrating,” said UK senior Janee Thompson, who with Epps had 16 points to lead Kentucky. “Not even our offense, but what we did on defense. I think we lost focus at the post position and the guard position. … I’m disappointed in the way we guarded the basketball, and that starts with me.”

The Cats (13-2, 2-2) were held to 37.5 percent shooting, their second-lowest of the season, and the 62 points were their second fewest.

“I thought our team came out and played really hard and gave a lot of effort,” Mitchell said. “We’re just not at a state right now where we can execute well enough and sharp enough on defense where we can stop that team.”

Kentucky struggled with foul trouble for much of the game, with starting forwards Evelyn Akhator and Alexis Jennings fouling out. Jennings had eight points and six rebounds in the loss. Akhator added six points and seven boards for UK, which was outrebounded 44-43.

Subbing in for both Akhator and Jennings was Batouly Camara, who had seven points and a career-best 10 rebounds.

“I thought foul trouble really bothered us,” Mitchell said. “They were able to play their starting frontcourt and we weren’t. I thought that really affected our ability to guard them.

“Then we were trying to make it tough on Wilson to put it on the floor and get to the basket. You saw her do just that time and time again.”

Staley and Mitchell don’t always agree on things, but they both agreed Wilson was a difference-maker, especially Thursday night.

“She was pretty special,” Staley said. “A lot of times you see triple-doubles or close to triple-doubles in blowouts. And when you’re able to get to close to it in a game of this magnitude, it really shows how special a player A’ja Wilson is. This is just the tip of the iceberg. She’s getting better every time she steps on the floor.”

Kentucky will get to see her at least one more time this season when the Cats travel to South Carolina in three weeks. Up next for UK is another revenge game against Auburn, which upset the Cats to open league play two weeks ago.

Jennifer Smith: 859-231-3241, @jenheraldleader

No. 2 SOUTH CAROLINA 73, No. 9 KENTUCKY 62

CAROLINA

Min

FG-A

FT-A

R

A

PF

PT

Wilson

32

11-16

4-9

13

2

2

26

Coates

28

3-4

3-4

11

1

3

9

Sessions

29

3-5

1-3

1

3

4

8

Mitchell

31

5-13

5-5

2

2

3

16

Dozier

5

0-2

0-0

1

0

0

0

Cuevas

15

0-7

2-2

0

1

0

2

Cliney

5

0-2

0-0

0

0

1

0

Roy

35

4-11

0-0

3

4

1

12

Imovbioh

13

0-2

0-2

5

0

1

0

White

7

0-1

0-0

5

0

1

0

Totals

200

26-63

15-25

44

13

16

73

Percentages: FG .413, FT .600. 3-Point Goals: 6-17, .353 (Roy 4-9, Sessions 1-1, Mitchell 1-5, Dozier 0-1, Cuevas 0-1). Team Rebounds: 3. Blocked Shots: 10 (Wilson 8, White, Imovbioh). Turnovers: 11 (Roy 2, Sessions 2, White 2, Mitchell 2, Wilson 2, Dozier). Steals: 3 (Roy, Wilson, Mitchell). Technical Fouls: None.

KENTUCKY

Min

FG-A

FT-A

R

A

PF

PT

Jennings

19

2-9

4-4

6

0

5

8

Akhator

24

3-6

0-3

7

0

5

6

Thompson

38

7-15

0-1

4

4

4

16

Morris

25

2-6

0-0

0

0

0

5

Epps

39

6-15

4-6

4

3

1

16

Camara

21

3-7

1-2

10

0

1

7

Murray

19

1-3

2-2

2

0

2

4

Rice

15

0-3

0-0

4

0

4

0

Totals

200

24-64

11-18

43

7

22

62

Percentages: FG .375, FT .611. 3-Point Goals: 3-9, .333 (Thompson 2-4, Morris 1-2, Epps 0-3). Team Rebounds: 6. Blocked Shots: 2 (Rice, Epps). Turnovers: 13 (Thompson 5, Akhator 3, Jennings 2, Camara 2, Rice). Steals: 3 (Akhator 2, Murray). Technical Fouls: None.

South Carolina

8

20

23

22

73

Kentucky

16

16

18

12

62

A—5,527. Officials—TINA NAPIER, BOB TRAMMELL, ROY GULBEYAN.

Next game

Auburn at Kentucky

1 p.m. Sunday (SEC Network)

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