Perhaps Tiffany Mitchell summed up South Carolina’s night best.
“We could have tried to shoot with our eyes closed and it probably would have went in,” the senior guard said.
Then she turned to Coach Dawn Staley and smiled.
“I know she wouldn’t have let us shoot with our eyes closed,” Mitchell continued. “But if we tried it, we probably would have made it this game.”
Almost everything went in for No. 3 South Carolina from almost everywhere at Veterans Memorial Arena on Saturday night as the Gamecocks demolished No. 13 Kentucky 93-63 in the semifinals of the Southeastern Conference Tournament.
The defending league champs handed surging UK its worst loss of the season by a wide margin and its worst SEC Tournament loss since 2007.
It was the Gamecocks’ most points scored this season and their most made three-pointers with 12, including four from Mitchell, who had 20 points for South Carolina, which went unbeaten in league play this season.
“Felt pretty good to have the balance that we had on both sides of the ball,” Staley said after the Gamecocks knocked off UK for a third straight time this season and for the sixth time in the last eight tries. “The energy on the bench. When everyone’s number was called, people came in and impacted the game.”
SEC Player of the Year A’ja Wilson had 18 points and six rebounds. Alaina Coates added 13 points and 10 boards. Bianca Cuevas came off the bench to score 15 points, including three from long range once the game had been decided.
Just like it did against No. 25 Florida the day before, Kentucky (23-7) fell behind by double digits early in the game.
But South Carolina isn’t Florida and the Cats struggled to catch up. Trailing by 11 points early, UK used a 12-5 run to pull within four points, 35-31, and then went cold.
The Cats missed their final six shots of the first half and went without a point for the last 4:09 and trailed at the break 42-31.
The Gamecocks (30-1) started the second half with an 11-2 run fueled by eight points from Coates.
“We got the type of lopsided victory that don’t come that often,” Staley said. Kentucky’s largest deficit in a game this season before this one was 15 points to South Carolina.
Even after UK cried uncle, South Carolina continued to hit three-pointer after three-pointer despite leading by 20-plus points most of the second half. The Gamecocks hit 11 of their 13 shots in the fourth quarter, including all six three-pointers they tried.
When asked what UK could have done to slow the Gamecocks, Matthew Mitchell said: “Well, you can guard a little bit better. Could have gotten up and played a little bit better defense.”
South Carolina’s 52.9 percent field-goal percentage was the second most by a UK opponent this season. In the Cats’ eight-game win streak, they had held opponents to 38.5 percent shooting.
“They really played aggressively today with a lot of fire and enthusiasm,” Mitchell said of South Carolina. “We were just not able to match them today.”
The Gamecocks put a lock-down defender on UK’s two leading scorers, Makayla Epps and Janee Thompson, and dared the rest of the players to beat them.
They could not.
Epps had 16 points, seven rebounds and five assists. The only other UK player to finish in double figures was Alexis Jennings, who had 10 points and six rebounds for UK, which was outrebounded 38-29, including being held to eight offensive boards.
In its third game in three days, Kentucky ran out of gas.
But Mitchell said he has a much better outlook after this loss to South Carolina than he did after the last one on Feb. 4. That defeat put Kentucky at 4-6 in league play with six games to go.
The Cats regrouped and won their next eight, including the first two rounds of the SEC Tournament.
“What we have accomplished in the month of February, the beginning of March, I’m extremely proud of our players and our team,” said Mitchell, whose team will get a nearly two-week break before the start of the NCAA Tournament.
Selection Monday is March 14 and UK likely has played its way into hosting the first two rounds at Memorial Coliseum the weekend of March 18-20.
“As good as that looked out there today for South Carolina, I wouldn’t trade places with them,” he continued. “I really, really love our team. Great, great group of young women who have worked hard to become a team.”