It took four years, but Maci Morris and Taylor Murray finally won their first career game against the South Carolina Gamecocks. The No. 16 Kentucky Wildcats (22-5) defeated No. 13 South Carolina (19-7) in Colombia by a score of 65-57.
The Lady Cats were led by freshman Rhyne Howard and senior Taylor Murray, who both scored 17 points apiece. Morris didn’t get off to a good start, going 0-8 to begin the game, but still finished with 12 points.
By the end of the first quarter, the Wildcats held a slight lead over the Gamecocks, 13-11, as the game got off to a slow start. Both teams shot the ball poorly to open the top-20 matchup, but Rhyne Howard made up for it in the second quarter.
A personal 8-0 run by Howard propelled Kentucky to a 26-17 lead a little over halfway through the second quarter while Morris watched from the sideline with a minor injury.
However, Morris would return with about two minutes left in the first half and finally scored her first two points after knocking in a pair of free throws with under a minute before the break.
South Carolina averages 13.6 turnovers per game – one of the lowest marks among SEC teams – and Kentucky forced them into 12 mishaps through the first 20 minutes of this game. Howard contributed to three steals while Morris and Murray both recorded two steals in the first half.
A major reason why the Wildcats were forcing so many problems for Carolina was due to the zone defense that head coach Matthew Mitchell employed periodically. The Gamecocks shot only 1-8 from deep in the first two quarters and were forced to make things happen in the paint. But the second a player in a red and white uniform touched the ball close to the rim, there was constant double – and sometimes triple – teams converging to strip it loose.
Alexis Jennings, a former Kentucky transfer and the Gamecocks most efficient inside scorer, shot only 2-5 in the first half but made all five of her free throw attempts for nine points and four rebounds.
Despite only two points from Morris and no made field goals from the team as a whole in the final four minutes, Kentucky held a six-point lead at halftime, 30-24, thanks to a combined 15 points from Howard and Murray. The 24 points from South Carolina were its lowest first-half total all season.
But the Gamecocks are a legitimate top-15 team for a reason, and they proved why quickly into the third frame. USC rattled off a 12-2 run through the first four minutes to take its first lead since it was 2-0 less than 30 seconds into the game.
Murray would save the Cats with a couple of timely layups, but seven third-quarter turnovers from the team as a whole (they had only six through the first two quarters) and still no made field goals from Morris had Kentucky trailing 43-40 heading into the fourth.
But in the fourth quarter, Morris finally got going.
Morris, her fellow senior Taylor Murray, and freshman sensation Rhyne Howard took over the game for the Wildcats.
Morris started the game 0-8 but finally hit her first shot, a three, with seven minutes left. She immediately followed that up with an and-1 and hit another three not even a few possessions later.
Howard, who hadn’t scored since the second quarter, knocked in five straight points halfway through the period. But it was Murray who pioneered a 13-3 Kentucky run to open the quarter that blew the game wide open. A big three from Howard put the Cats up 55-48 and that about ended the game.
South Carolina’s Destanni Henderson hit three triples in the fourth to keep things interesting, but Jennings was held to only three points in the entire second half and the Gamecocks as a team turned the ball over 21 times for the game.
— Kentucky WBB (@KentuckyWBB) February 22, 2019
With the win, Kentucky has now won five games in a row and snapped South Carolina’s seven-game conference win streak.
The Wildcats will next face the LSU Tigers this Sunday, Feb. 24, for Senior Day at Memorial Coliseum. The game will be broadcasted on the SEC Network+ at 2 p.m.