#14 Cats fall 67-58 to #1 South Carolina

#14 Cats fall 67-58 to #1 South Carolina
South Carolina head coach Dawn Staley (Source: Joe Gorchow)

LEXINGTON, Ky. – Rhyne Howard scored 24 points and grabbed 11 rebounds, but the 14th-ranked Kentucky women's basketball team fell to No. 1 South Carolina 67-58 on Sunday afternoon at Memorial Coliseum.

Facing one of the nation's best defensive teams, Kentucky struggled on offense in Sunday's contest. The Wildcats made 16 of 54 (29.6 percent) of its shots from the field, including six of 15 (40 percent) from beyond the arc.

Kentucky (20-6, 9-5 SEC) turned the ball over 12 times and forced 12 turnovers in the game. South Carolina dominated points in the paint, with a 38-14 advantage in that category.

Kentucky scored first when KeKe McKinney nailed a three from the corner just 28 seconds into the game. After South Carolina got a basket from Aliyah Boston, Howard hit a pair of free throws to build the UK lead to 5-2. The Gamecocks would get a baseline jumper from Mikiah Herbert Harrigan to cut the lead to one before the Cats got consecutive baskets from Howard and Jaida Roper to grab a 9-4 advantage.

South Carolina would score the next six points to lead for the first time, 10-9, but Amanda Paschal's jumper gave UK an 11-10 lead just 23 seconds later. A pair of Howard free throws gave the Cats a 13-10 lead, but a 17-1 South Carolina run, including 15 straight points, gave the Gamecocks a 27-14 lead after one period of play.

The Gamecocks scored first in the second period on a runner by Lele Grissett before Paschal hit a jumper to put an end to the run and make the score 29-16. After South Carolina's Zia Cooke hit a pair of free throws to extend the lead to 31-16, Kentucky scored nine in a row on a layup by Howard, a three from McKinney and a pair of layups by Ogechi Anyagaligbo, to get within six, 31-25, with 4:47 left in the half."

After three consecutive South Carolina free throws, Howard hit a left-side three to get the Cats within 34-28 with 2:58 left in the half. But the Gamecocks would close the half on a 6-2 run to take a 40-30 advantage into the break. Howard led all scorers with 12 points in the first half.

South Carolina started the third period on a 5-1 run to lead 45-31. But Kentucky would hang tough, getting back within 10 at 47-37 with 5:05 to play in the quarter. After Herbert Harrigan hit a pair of free throws, Roper was fouled on a three and hit all three charity tosses to get the Cats within nine, 49-40, with 4:37 to play in the third.

Trailing by nine, the Cats had a possession to get even closer, but Howard missed a contested jumper and South Carolina rebounded, then converted on the other end when Cooke hit a driving layup to give the Gamecocks a 51-40 advantage. Those points would be the first of a 9-1 South Carolina run that would give the Gamecocks a 58-41 lead with 1:05 left in the third period. South Carolina would hold a 59-43 advantage heading to the fourth quarter.

Kentucky scored first in the final period when Sabrina Haines hit a three from the top of the key. After South Carolina's Destanni Henderson hit a runner, McKinney hit another three for the Cats, cutting the deficit to 61-49. From there, the two teams would go cold, with Kentucky missing eight straight shots while South Carolina missed six in a row.

South Carolina's Harris ended that run with a driving layup that gave the Gamecocks a 63-49 lead with 4:14 to play. Howard would keep the Cats within striking distance, making four straight free throws to make it 63-53 with 2:32 to play.

UK would get within eight, 63-55, on a pair of Nae Nae Cole free throws, but South Carolina had an immediate answer, on a driving layup by Cooke with 1:57 to play, that gave the Gamecocks a 65-55 advantage.

Kentucky returns to action on Thursday, hosting Georgia at Memorial Coliseum. Tipoff is set for 7 p.m. ET and the game can be seen on SEC Network Plus.

UK ATHLETICS COMMUNICATIONS AND PUBLIC RELATIONSWOMEN’S BASKETBALL POSTGAME NOTES

NO. 14 KENTUCKY VS. NO. 1 SOUTH CAROLINA

SUNDAY, FEBRUARY 23

MEMORIAL COLISEUM – LEXINGTON, KENTUCKY

No. 14 Kentucky 58, No. 1 South Carolina 67 – FINAL

Team Records and Series Notes

  • Kentucky is 20-6 overall and 9-5 in the Southeastern Conference. South Carolina is 27-1 and 14-0 in league play having won 21 straight games.
  • UK is 13-3 at home this season, including 12-2 inside Memorial Coliseum.
  • This was the 67th all-time meeting between Kentucky and South Carolina in women’s basketball.
  • Kentucky leads the all-time series in games played against South Carolina 34-33, including a 20-11 mark in games played in Lexington.
  • South Carolina has won five straight games in Lexington and defeated UK earlier this season in Columbia, 99-72.
  • Matthew Mitchell is in his 13th season as the head coach of the Wildcats.
  • Mitchell is 331-160 overall in his career and 301-131 during his tenure at Kentucky.
  • Kentucky is ranked 14th in the latest AP Top 25 and 16th in the latest USA Today/Coaches Top 25.
  • The Wildcats will return to action Thursday when they play host to Georgia for Senior Night inside Memorial Coliseum. The game will tip at 7 p.m. ET on SEC Network+.

Team Notes

  • Kentucky used the starting combination of senior guards Sabrina Haines and Jaida Roper, sophomore guard Rhyne Howard, junior forward KeKe McKinney and senior forward Ogechi Anyagaligbo. 
  • This was the fourth time this season that UK has used this starting combination, sitting 2-2.
  • KeKe McKinney scored first for Kentucky in the game. This was the third time this season that she has been the first Wildcat to score. 
  • South Carolina ended the first quarter on a 15-0 run to take a 27-14 lead into the second quarter. The Wildcats led 13-12 at the first media timeout but went the final 5:57 without a field goal the rest of the first quarter.
  • The Gamecocks upped their lead to 15 early in the second quarter before the Wildcats went on a 9-0 run to cut into the lead at 31-25 with 3:43 left in the half. Three SC free throws ended the run.
  • South Carolina led 40-30 at halftime. SC’s 40 points were the second most UK has allowed in the first half time season with the previous high being 49 by South Carolina in Columbia.
  • UK is 3-4 overall and 1-4 in the SEC when trailing at halftime this season.
  • The Wildcats cut the South Carolina lead to nine in the third quarter with Jaida Roper hitting three free throws by the Gamecocks answered by ending the first half on a 10-3 run to take a 59-43 lead into the fourth quarter.
  • UK went the final 5:05 of the third quarter without a field goal.
  • UK has 216 3-pointers this season, which ranks third most in program history.
  • Kentucky shot 29.6 percent from the field in the game, which was its second-lowest percentage this season. 
  • South Carolina’s 67 points scored was its second-fewest points scored in a league game this season.
  • South Carolina did not hit a 3 in the game, which is the first time this season they have been held without a 3-pointer.
  • Kentucky has secured a winning record in league play for the 11th time in 13 years under Matthew Mitchell.
  • Kentucky has earned another 20-win season under Matthew Mitchell, the 10th in his 13-year tenure.
  • This is the 20th time in 46 seasons that UK has won 20 or more games.

Player Notes

  • Sophomore guard Rhyne Howard scored a game-high 24 points with 11 rebounds.
  • Howard has 1,057 career points, moving up to a tie for 30th all-time in scoring in program history.
    • Howard needs 14 more to tie for 29th.
  • Howard has hit 142 career 3-pointers, which ranks eighth most in program history.
    • Howard needs 20 more makes from 3 to tie Jenny Pfeffier for seventh all-time on that list at 162 makes.
  • Howard has hit 68 3-pointers this season, ranking seventh on the UK single-season list.
  • Howard has now scored 20 or more points in 17 games.
  • Howard has scored 20 or more points in 12 of her last 13 games.
  • This was the 18th time this season and 34th time in her career that Howard has led UK in scoring.
  • This was the 12th time this season and 31st career time that Howard has led UK in rebounds.
  • Howard led UK with three assists.
  • In 55 career games, Howard has recorded some impressive numbers:
    • Hit at least one 3 in 49 career games
    • Made three or more 3s in 23 games
    • Made five or more 3s in 9 games
    • Scored 10+ points in 48 games
    • Scored 15+ points in 39 games
    • Scored 20+ points in 27 games
    • Scored 25+ points in 16 games
    • Scored 30+ points in 3 games
    • Led UK in scoring in 34 games
    • Led UK in rebounding in 31 games
  • Junior forward KeKe McKinney went 3-of-7 from 3 in the game, tying a career high in 3s made.   

UK ATHLETICS COMMUNICATIONS AND PUBLIC RELATIONSWOMEN’S BASKETBALL POSTGAME QUOTES

NO. 14 KENTUCKY VS. NO. 1 SOUTH CAROLINA

SUNDAY, FEBRUARY 23

MEMORIAL COLISEUM – LEXINGTON, KY.

Kentucky Head Coach Matthew Mitchell

Opening statement…

“Tough game today, and I think you have to give a lot of credit to South Carolina. They’re an awfully tough team there. They’re very talented, well coached and such a great defensive team, make it hard on you to score. Thought they really hustled. I thought we had some chances at some critical points but just couldn’t make a bucket. But I thought if you look at it over the course of 40 minutes, I think there was some tremendous effort from our team as well so it’s always disappointing to lose and we’re going have to do what we’ve done every time this year and bounce back from a defeat and go get a victory Thursday night so that’s what we’ll have our mind on.”

On what team needs to do to ensure top seed in the tournament…

“I think we have to be encouraged that in critical moments, we did the right things, shots just didn’t fall so I just talked to them. We just have to get back in the gym Tuesday with the most positive attitude and have complete belief in ourselves and go out there and just prepare really well for what’s a tough game Thursday night against Georgia, but we will learn from where we made our mistakes today and try to get better. But, I thought we fought hard.”

On Kentucky’s improve movement sense first South Carolina game…

“That was a real wake up call for us, we just didn’t show up very well that night and it was real blessing at the time, a real gift that we were given because we had to quickly lock in on our identity at that point in time and we had to get much tougher and we had to get much more focused and zeroed in on having a fierce, competitive spirit and so that was a great opportunity to learn so you can either let one of those kind of games really shake you or you can rise up and get better and I think our team certainly was able to rise up and get better over the course of the season, it’s a been a long time since January 2. I think we’ve made a lot of improvement and I thought we fought hard today in some critical points to get back in the game when South Carolina would make a run, so I thought you saw some toughness from our team today and we certainly are not pleased at the result or how we played but we have to continue to focus on how can we be a successful team and a big ingredient in that is being physically tough and mentally tough. I thought there was a time where we welted a little bit in the first quarter and sort of stopped playing there for a couple of minutes and gave them some pretty easy buckets and I was real proud we were able to get it together. We got it together and came back and tried to work hard throughout the game so just learn from all the things that went wrong today and get better, but understand we have to remain tough and keep fighting for one of the top four seeds.”

On how Kentucky can be successful going forward…

“We need to focus on how we can be a successful team. A big ingredient on how we can be a successful team is being physically tough and mentally tough. I thought there was a time where we wilted a little bit in the first quarter and sort of just stopped playing there for a couple of minutes, and we gave them some pretty easy buckets. I was real proud that we were able to get it together. We were able to get it together, and we came back and tried to work hard throughout the game. So, just learn from all the things that went wrong today and get better but understand that we have to be tough and keep fighting for one of those top-four seeds.”

On Dawn Staley saying Kentucky controlled the tempo the entire game…

“Well, one big key where they just had an avalanche on us was points off turnovers, and we didn’t take care of the basketball in Columbia, and so I thought we were much better today in some of those stats. We were much tougher with the ball and I thought we were much more patient with the basketball. We didn’t score enough buckets, but you did see us at the end of the clock sometimes, making a big play that helped us hang in there. A bad shot versus South Carolina is really like a turnover, is what we try to tell our players. If you go in, and you’re off balance, and you’re knocked to the floor. They are so great in transition, and now you’re not balanced on transition defense, and they just can absolutely get going. I thought it was really important for our team to make good, on-balanced shots and limit our exposure to runs by taking bad shots and letting that fuel their transition offense. I think we certainly did a better job than we did January 2, but it still wasn’t good enough. We just have to stay at it and keep fighting and see if we can get better.”

On the crowd…

“Great crowd, incredible crowd. We need another one on Thursday. We have five really special seniors, it’s a very special senior class for us. We will be highly motivated to win. The crowd today was just terrific, they got behind us all-day long and I appreciate that. I can’t tell you how much we care about this group of seniors and a big crowd in their seats early would be a great way to send out a group of seniors that’s worked hard for us.”

Kentucky Student-Athletes

#10 Rhyne Howard, G, So.

On what the team can take away from this game…

“We can take away that we can show that we can compete with them. They are number one in the country, but I think we did a lot of good things today and that is the thing that we need to focus on. Even with the things we didn’t do too well, we can just refocus and work on those.”

On how much your injured finger was a problem…

“Well, I don’t have a good grip with my left hand but I just have to push through it and be able to play and stay tough for my teammates.”

On when the splint should be coming off…

“I go to get more x-rays this week and hopefully it is good enough to go to a smaller splint. But I will probably be in a splint for the rest of the season.”

#32 Jaida Roper, G. Sr.

On South Carolina working the ball inside…

“Credit to South Carolina, they are a really good team. They have some great players on that team. We just made a decision to buckle down and try to defend the dribble-drive, help out our bigs, dig in the post a little bit. We just have to go to work and get better.”

On the team’s response to a tall South Carolina team…

“We just tried to stay aggressive. We were trying to attack, find a mismatch, find Rhyne (Howard) off staggers, give her the ball. We had some trouble with their length. They’re really quick guards, really long posts but I feel that we can work around that. We can get better and just execute better.”

South Carolina Head Coach Dawn Staley

On how South Carolina was able to break after the first quarter and how UK responded to that…

“I thought that, at the beginning of the game, we weren’t pushing the ball. Kentucky had a lot to do with that, and they were zone pressing, and they were forcing us to slow down a little bit. We tried to just tell our team it’s token pressure. It’s not really that they’re trapping, they’re just trying to slow us down and not allow us to push the ball down the floor and create some quicker buckets in transition. I thought once we got flowing, that is the speed we need to play at and that’s the speed that we’ve played at all season long when we can truly make an impact. The first quarters are quarters in which we do get held to a quick start and it took us awhile to get going because of the defense they started the game out with.”

On getting your team motivated after Kentucky was up to start the game …

“We knew Kentucky was going to come out with a lot of energy. We just tried to sustain and make sure we were doing what we needed to do to handle their burst of energy that they had to start the game. It took us a couple minutes to really adjust and when we started moving the ball, pushing the ball up the floor, getting the ball inside and in the paint, it opened up for us. I think for the most part, Kentucky controlled the tempo the whole game from tip to buzzer.”

On the 300 wins at South Carolina milestone …

“All the former players who have dedicated their college careers to us here in South Carolina, they’re are big a part of why that happens and our staff as well. I don’t really look at the number of wins, but I do like how we’re regular season champions in a tough conference, if not the best conference. When you’re the number one in this conference, it’s saying something special.”

On how she thought the season would go preseason …

“I didn’t even put goals on this team because I didn’t know them well. A large amount of our team hasn’t played a lot of minutes for us. Nine out of twelve are either a transfer, sophomore or freshman. They really haven’t played a lot of minutes. I knew what Aliyah Boston, Lele Grissett and Mikiah Herbert Harrigan would bring to the table. But that’s just a fourth of our team. The question was how the other three fourths of the team would play in this league and playing the schedule we had. You just don’t know, so you take it day-by-day and you allow them to figure it out. We had the foundation just allowing them the blueprint of what it looks like.”

On carrying over intensity as a player to a coach …

“I think that’s a pretty spot on observation. I’m a point guard, meaning that it’s current because you never lose that title of being a point guard. You’re always directing, you’re always leading, always finding what buttons to push in different players, and I have a whole lot of practice in doing that as a player, so I don’t think much changes when you become a coach because you see it the same way, you’re dealing with people and relationships. Your people want to know that you care about them and once they know you care, you can say whatever you want, uncensored because they know it’s coming from a place of love.”

On SEC tournament loss last year …

“I mean, Kentucky was the one that really upended our chances of becoming tied for the SEC Championship. That one hurt and it hurt because, quite honestly, I didn’t know that team could be where it was at the time and I didn’t think we could get ourselves to a point where we were even in the conversation. That’s why it stunk so much because we worked hard to get to that point and take that kind of defeat at our house, it was really upsetting.”

On Aliyah Boston improving foul trouble …

“The adjustment was to take her out and put V (Victaria Saxton) in. I mean, we have players who sit on our bench and probably won’t play a whole lot of minutes and Aliyah is such an intricate part of what we do on both sides of the ball. It’s not that anyone is incapable, I mean we put Laeticia (Amihere) in at the last four minutes and she came in and gave us some great looks. So, we don’t shy away from giving our bench the opportunity to perform. It’s true that Aliyah takes it hard when she doesn’t play her normal minutes and normal rotation, but I had to tell her you know you have carried us for a lot of games this year, so trust your teammates. Let them do what you’ve been doing for them all season long and then, we got control of the game and we finished it.”

#52 Tyasha Harris, Sr., G.

On getting the regular-season SEC title after two years in second place …

“It feels amazing just because I was part of that history when I first came in here and I was part of the team that lost it, so it was good to just bring it back home.”

On Dawn Staley being hesitant to dole out praise to the team …

“Yeah, she always praises us, but she always likes to say, ‘Don’t sip the Kool-Aid,’ and we don’t want to do that either because we don’t want to get ahead of ourselves. She always praises us and always motivates us.”

On this game compared to the first game against Kentucky earlier in the season …

“We knew it was going to be different. It’s kind of hard to play a team twice. We know our tendencies and that kind of thing. Obviously, we played them at home and they got the crowd ad home-court advantage and stuff like that. They just wanted to come back and I know they didn’t want to have the same outcome as the first game, so it was going to be tough” …

#1 Zia Cooke, Fr., G.

On when Kentucky started to close the gap and had to respond in the last three minutes…

“I didn’t even notice that, I was just trying to go out there and make sure I was just moving and flowing, getting my teammates the ball and if I had the opportunity to do so I would do that as well. That’s basically what I do. I just try to go out there and do everything in flow.”

On getting the ball inside against Kentucky from the start …

“That was part of our game plan. Just pound it in the paint. We recognized it from the first game that we contributed to that a lot in plays off of the paint, so we wanted to just stick to the same game plan.”

On the 15-0 run in the first and how it affected the rest of the game …

“Game full of runs so we knew we had run in it, they had a run in them and it’s just being patient and being composed throughout the whole thing.”

Official release from UK sports information

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