After two straight losses, Kentucky looked to rebound tonight against #2 South Carolina in Columbia. Despite Makayla Epps dropping 17 points in the second half, Kentucky just couldn’t get it done tonight and fell to the Gamecocks, 78-68.
To say Kentucky was ice cold to start the game was an understatement. In the first six minutes of the game, the Wildcats went 2 for 11 while South Carolina made 5 of their first seven baskets. With 4:45 left in the first quarter, the Cats trailed by seven. Kentucky was down, but not out. South Carolina only scored one basket the last four minutes of the quarter, giving Taylor Murray the opportunity to cut Kentucky’s deficit to two. At the end of the first quarter, Kentucky trailed 15-11. Not terrible considering the Cats shot an abysmal 29% from the field.
Neither team managed to score in the first two minutes of the second quarter until South Carolina’s Cliney was fouled on a made basket, extending the lead to 7. Alexis Jennings was quick to answer on the next play, cutting it back down to five. Janee Thompson, who broke her leg at South Carolina last year, put up a gorgeous three pointer to cut it to two. A basket by Jennings got Kentucky their first lead of the game, 21-20 with 5:53 left in the half. South Carolina was able to get the lead back two minutes later and extended it to seven. At the end of the half, Kentucky trailed by 5, 35-30. Maci Morris and Alexis Jennings led the Cats in scoring with 8 apiece. Batouly Camara had 4 rebounds. During the first half, Kentucky shot 39% from the field. South Carolina outrebounded the Wildcats 20-15 and outscored them in the paint, 22-12.
South Carolina started the second half with three unanswered baskets, extending their lead to 11. Batouly Camara cut it to nine with Kentucky’s first points of the second half at 7:25 in the third quarter. This was a really physical game; half of Kentucky’s eight available players notched three fouls to close out the third period: Thompson, Akhator, Jennings, and Rice. At the 2:37 mark, Makayla Epps joined the 1,000 point club with a layup to chip into the Cats’ deficit, 49-42. With only two seconds left in the quarter, Makayla Epps, who scored 13 points in the third period, got the Cats within one on a three point play, but a three pointer by USC’s Sessions at the buzzer extended it back to four. At the end of the third, the Cats trailed the Gamecocks, 57-53.
The fourth quarter was quiet for the Cats. With 6:05 left in the game, Kentucky had only scored four points in the period. Jennings brought the Cats within five with a couple of buckets at the charity stripe, but South Carolina was just too much for Kentucky to handle with such a short bench. In the final ten minutes of the game, most of Kentucky’s roster was in serious foul trouble; Thompson, Jennings, Camara, and Morris all had four fouls and Akhator, Murray, and Rice had three apiece. Batouly Camara fouled out with just over two minutes left in the game with a career night of 14 points and 9 rebounds. Despite Makayla Epps catching fire and scoring all of her 17 points in the second half, Kentucky was just not able to scrape out the victory and goes down to #2 South Carolina in Columbia, 78-68.
Despite the intimidating environment against the undefeated, second ranked team in the nation, Kentucky fought hard. Four Wildcats finished the game in double-digit scoring, Epps with 17, Camara with 14, Jennings with 12, and Morris with 10. Camara led the team in rebounding with 9, followed by Akhator with 5. Kentucky shot 41% in the game, and tallied 32 rebounds. A bright side of the game was that the Cats only committed 11 turnovers, a far cry from the last game where they had 30. South Carolina outscored Kentucky in the paint, 44-38.
Here’s today’s box score:
With this loss, Kentucky falls to 15-6 on the season and 4-6 in conference. They will be back in Memorial on Sunday at noon to face an 8-14 LSU squad. The game will be broadcast on the SEC Network. If you are in the Lexington area, get to campus and support our Cats. They need Memorial to be loud and proud on Sunday.