“We are scheduled for our annual visit to the dentist’s office. Our yearly root canal over in Columbia.” This is how Coach Matthew Mitchell opened up his pre-game press conference yesterday in regards to the yearly game against South Carolina. The Gamecocks are Kentucky’s permanent opponents in the SEC, and they are the only team that the Cats play at home and on the road each and every year. The series between the two teams has become one of the top match-ups each year in the conference, as both teams have been ultra-competitive and have made waves both in the league and nationally.
This year looks to be more of the same. 9th ranked Kentucky (13-2, 1-1 SEC) is coming off of a disappointing home loss to upstart Florida, while 10th ranked South Carolina (14-1, 2-0 SEC) is continuing to ride the huge roll of success Coach Dawn Staley has brought to the Gamecocks. A program with almost no prolific history in women’s basketball until Staley’s arrival, USC is no a mainstay in the top 15 of the polls and a pick to go far into March. How have they done it? One word: defense. When you get ready for a game against Carolina, you’re preparing for an ugly, grind it out affair that will most likely be decided in the 60’s, or less. The teams split last year’s games, with USC winning in Columbia, and Kentucky overcoming a 16 point deficit in Lexington to win by four. These teams are always hungry to beat one another, and with Kentucky trying to avoid a 1-2 start in conference play, look for Mitchell to light a fire under his team this evening. No TV tonight, but tune in on http://www.gamecocksonline.com/allaccess/
#9 Kentucky Wildcats vs #10 South Carolina Gamecocks
FINAL KENTUCKY 59 SOUTH CAROLINA 68 Sadly, the Cats could not overcome a brutal ending to the first half and terrible start to the second half and fell hard in Columbia tonight. UK is now 13-3 on the year and a disappointing 1-2 in conference play. Kentucky’s offensive woes continued tonight, as there was absolutely no consistency from the girl’s in blue.
2nd Half 3:54: Kentucky has finally been able to knock down some shots, and has taken all the momentum away from the Gamecocks, but it might be too little, too late. The Cats have had some opportunities to cut the lead down even farther, but the Cocks have controlled the rebounds in the paint, and free throw shooting continues to shoot UK in the foot. South Carolina leads 58-49.
2nd Half 7:45: This one’s ugly guys. Kentucky absolutely cannot get anything to fall from the field. The Cats are shooting 19% from the field, the Gamecocks have 12 blocks, and UK is now facing it’s largest deficit of the entire season. Not quite sure what else to say about this one, USC is winning 54-37.
2nd Half 15:34: The Cats are trying to claw back into this one, but some unlucky rolls and contained intensity from the Gamecocks have hurt UK early in this first half. Kentucky is making a concerted effort to get Stallworth more involved in the game, but nothing from the Wildcats is falling. Carolina leads by 15.
HALFTIME KENTUCKY 24 SOUTH CAROLINA 34 That was an ugly finish for Kentucky. After the Cats cut the lead to three points at 25-22, the Gamecocks went on a 7-0 run in less than a minute spurred by a 3-pointer and UK turnovers. Mitchell quickly and angrily called a timeout, and was not happy about the decision making from the Wildcats on offense. There was no movement, no passing, and a complete lack of execution. The Cats will need to regain their intensity on defense, force some turnovers, and move the basketball, if not…UK will be under .500 in the SEC. Kentucky is shooting an abysmal 26.7% from the field and is being out-rebounded 24-19 by the Cocks.
1st Half 3:55: The Cats have gone stagnant on offense. USC has used a mixed offensive attack with solid guard play and some lucky shots inside to chip away at Kentucky and eventually take the lead. The Cats are relying too much on Jennifer O’Neill to create her own shot (which she usually misses) instead of moving the ball in and around the arc on offense. When O’Neill has the ball in her hand the majority of the time, the Cats lose. South Carolina has taken the lead 22-18.
1st Half 7:52: Well, that early composure that Kentucky had on offense has transformed into some careless turnovers by the Wildcats and the Gamecocks have taken advantage. It’s going to be a back-and-forth affair, as both team’s realize the importance of this game early in the conference season. The SEC is stacked, and all teams are going to take some turns beating each other up. Bishop leads the way for UK with five points followed by four for Stallworth. Kentucky leads 16-15.
1st Half 11:59: After building a nine point lead against Florida with about 10 minutes left in the game on Sunday, Kentucky only made one field goal the rest of the game. Offense was brutal to watch. Tonight, the Cats have been focused and on a mission offensively. They look very poised in a tough road environment, and it seems like a hard few days of practice have made all the impact for UK. Dealing without Stallworth all of this time, the Cats have had to rely heavily on Azia Bishop, who is known for inconsistent play. Bishop will have one game with double-figures and dominating play, and then follow that up with a heinous performance like she had against Florida, with just two points. Mitchell said one problem with Bishop is that she avoids contact in the paint, opposed to the elite players in the SEC who draw the contact. Early tonight, it seems Bishop has taken that to heart as she is not afraid of banging around in the post, a quality Kentucky dearly needs from her. UK still looking good and winning 13-9.
1st Half 15:34: Early turnovers from the Gamecocks have been gifts to Kentucky. The Cats look active, focused and energetic on defense, and they’re going back to their pressure D roots to take the early lead. Mitchell has to be pleased with how UK has come out early after a lifeless loss a few days ago. Stallworth got the start tonight, so it’s safe to say she is back to prime form following her surgery. Her movement is fluid, and the senior already has four quick points in the paint. Cats lead early 10-4.
Tipoff: Cats win the tip, let’s do this. Gonna be a physical, gritty game.
10 Minutes till Tip: The Cats look to get more minutes from DeNesha Stallworth tonight. The senior who was sidelined for a month after knee surgery in December made her first appearance back on the court Sunday afternoon playing just seven minutes, but Coach Mitchell said she is extremely anxious to return and had a monster past few days of practice. Kentucky will need the depth inside as USC brings one of the biggest front court lineups in the conference. The Gamecocks also lead the league in field goal percentage, which means most of the shots they take and make are inside the 3-point arc. Key to tonight’s game? Mitchell says “The key: Can we keep that strength about us, and can we really hustle and try to outhustle South Carolina?” UK failed to do that against Florida on Sunday, so look for a focused Wildcats team tonight.