UK Women's Basketball

Weakened No. 2 South Carolina still too much for No. 18 Kentucky

South Carolina’s Tiffany Mitchell (25) maneuvered between Kentucky’s Makayla Epps (25) and Janee Thompson during the first half at Colonial Life Arena.
South Carolina’s Tiffany Mitchell (25) maneuvered between Kentucky’s Makayla Epps (25) and Janee Thompson during the first half at Colonial Life Arena. tglantz@thestate.com

South Carolina might have been without its star for much of the game, but it still had plenty of power.

The post duo of Alaina Coates and A’ja Wilson were strong, combining to score 45 points and grab 20 rebounds in the second-ranked Gamecocks’ 78-68 victory over No. 18 Kentucky.

“When you see one of your sisters go down, you get a bad taste in your mouth,” Wilson said of losing two-time Southeastern Conference Player of the Year Tiffany Mitchell to a back bruise late in the first half. “Everyone else on the court knew, ‘OK we’ve got to fill that gap.’”

Seeing the rest of the team pitch in to earn the win was “huge,” Coach Dawn Staley said. “They all stepped up in a way that made us proud. I know it was a great confidence booster for them.”

Coates was the key on Thursday night, scoring 27 points and grabbing 13 boards for South Carolina, which earned its 45th straight win at Colonial Life Arena.

“That was one of her best games, focusing and finishing, playing both sides of the ball,” Staley said of Coates. “I thought she did a great job.”

Twice in the second half, UK (15-6, 4-6 SEC) pulled within two points, but each time South Carolina had an answer to remain unbeaten.

We’re not as adept at not fouling as South Carolina is.You can’t win — it’s hard to win — when you foul that much and the other team doesn’t ever foul. It’s hard.

Kentucky Coach Matthew Mitchell

The first time, the Cats got within two and seemed to be carrying all of the momentum into the final quarter on a Makayla Epps drive and made free throw.

After starting the game 0-for-6, the junior scored all of her 17 points in the second half, including her 1,000th career point.

But after Epps got UK within striking distance again, South Carolina senior Khadijah Sessions heaved a 75-footer at the third quarter horn to extend the lead again and get the crowd back in it. The senior guard had nine points and four rebounds.

The two teams seemed split on whether that was a deciding factor in the game, with UK Coach Matthew Mitchell saying he went into the huddle talking about how much momentum UK had gained from the big third quarter.

Coates said it was key. “We used that and the energy of the crowd to get going into the fourth quarter.”

Then UK freshmen Taylor Murray and Batouly Camara combined to cut the South Carolina lead down to two points again on a Murray three with 2:39 to go, but South Carolina again had an answer.

Camara had career-best 14 points for the Cats and added nine rebounds, including five on the offensive end.

Coates answered UK’s rally with a jumper to extend the lead again.

“They definitely brought a lot of intensity and they tried to bring the hammer down on us, but we were able to find ways to get through that,” said Coates, who also had four blocked shots.

Mitchell commended the South Carolina forwards, who helped the Gamecocks shoot 62.5 percent in the second half and 52 percent for the game.

“We are struggling to guard them right now, and we’ll have to go to work on that,” he said. “They’re real good players, real good.”

Mitchell seemed frustrated, though, with the officiating in the game. South Carolina shot 35 free throws compared to 14 for Kentucky.

During one stretch after UK took its only lead of the game midway through the second quarter, South Carolina responded with a 13-3 run, going back up 33-24 on two Wilson free throws.

They were two of 13 free throws USC was awarded in that three-minute span. Several of those freebies were involved in a four-point swing that saw Coates miss a free throw, have the offensive rebound tipped back to her and then make a layup and another free throw to extend the lead again.

“We’re not as adept at not fouling as South Carolina is,” Mitchell said. “You can’t win — it’s hard to win — when you foul that much and the other team doesn’t ever foul. It’s hard.”

Staley, who nearly got a technical herself as she was protesting a technical called on Wilson in the second half, was asked if she planned to discuss her issues with the league office.

“No, I stay away from that,” said Staley, whose team remained unbeaten at 22-0 and 11-0 in the SEC with top-ranked Connecticut next up on the schedule. “I want to keep my money in the bank.”

Alexis Jennings added 12 points and four rebounds for Kentucky and Maci Morris had 10 points.

After back-to-back road losses, Kentucky goes back to Memorial Coliseum on Sunday to face Louisiana State.

Despite losing three in a row and four of its last five, Mitchell felt better about Kentucky’s play going forward.

“Everything but our free throw defense wasn’t very good,” he said. “We showed some defensive toughness. We showed none versus Florida and none versus Vandy. … It’s not a magic pill. We’ll go back to work.”

Notes

Epps had a noticeable limp in the second half, but it doesn’t sound serious. The Cats’ leading scorer this season said she had a toenail issue.

“Nothing a good pedicure won’t fix,” her coach quipped.

▪ After the game, Staley said Mitchell was cleared to return to the game at halftime with her back injury, but the coach opted to sit the senior as a precaution.

No. 2 SOUTH CAROLINA 78, No. 18 KENTUCKY 68

KENTUCKY

Min

FG-A

FT-A

R

A

PF

PT

Camara

25

7-13

0-1

9

2

5

14

Thompson

34

1-7

0-0

3

6

4

3

Morris

25

3-11

4-5

2

1

4

10

Akhator

23

1-4

0-0

5

0

3

2

Epps

31

8-17

1-3

2

1

3

17

Jakubcova

5

1-2

0-0

4

0

1

2

Murray

30

2-4

1-1

0

1

4

6

Jennings

21

4-9

4-4

4

0

4

12

Rice

6

1-2

0-0

0

0

3

2

Totals

200

28-69

10-14

32

11

31

68

Percentages: FG .406, FT .714. 3-Point Goals: 2-8, .250 (Murray 1-1, Thompson 1-2, Epps 0-1, Morris 0-4). Team Rebounds: 3. Blocked Shots: 1 (Camara). Turnovers: 11 (Epps 3, Thompson 2, Akhator, Camara, Morris, Murray, Jennings, Rice). Steals: 4 (Thompson 2, Morris, Akhator). Technical Fouls: None.

S. CAROLINA

Min

FG-A

FT-A

R

A

PF

PT

Sessions

30

3-5

2-4

4

1

0

9

Wilson

28

5-7

8-10

7

3

4

18

Roy

33

2-11

2-2

1

4

1

7

Mitchell

10

1-2

0-0

0

0

1

2

Coates

32

10-14

7-12

13

2

3

27

Cuevas

21

1-5

3-4

2

2

2

5

Cliney

26

3-4

1-1

1

2

2

7

Imovbioh

8

1-2

0-0

1

0

1

2

White

12

0-0

1-2

3

1

3

1

Totals

200

26-50

24-35

39

15

17

78

Percentages: FG .520, FT .686. 3-Point Goals: 2-12, .167 (Sessions 1-3, Roy 1-8, Cuevas 0-1). Team Rebounds: 7. Blocked Shots: 6 (Coates 4, Wilson 2). Turnovers: 17 (Wilson 4, Mitchell 3, Coates 3, Sessions 3, Cliney 2, White, Cuevas). Steals: 8 (Roy 2, Sessions 2, Cuevas, Coates, Cliney, Mitchell). Technical Fouls: None.

Kentucky

11

19

23

15

68

South Carolina

15

20

22

21

78

A—NA. Officials—Michael Price, Amy Bonner, Greg Small.

Next game

LSU at Kentucky

Noon Sunday (SEC Network)

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