C’mon, you’ve used the slander before. The University of Southern California and the University of South Carolina share the initials, but only one gets to use them. The one with the multiple football championships, the famous alums, the proximity to Hollywood. The Gamecocks have a proud athletic history as well, but relatively speaking, one must be lesser. One must be smaller.
There is nothing small about South Carolina Women’s Basketball. Not in size. Not in skill.
Not in Southeastern Conference standings (tied for 1st going into tonight), and after they collide with top ranked UConn in Columbia next month, perhaps not in the national polls either.
Head Coach Dawn Staley takes a backseat to NO ONE when it comes to intensity, and tonight in Lexington she willed her squad to a hard fought 73-62 victory over Matthew Mitchell’s Kentucky Wildcats. Nothing “jr” about the Carolina frontline of A’ja Wilson and Alaina Coates, who led the way by combining for 35 points and 24 rebounds. Wilson flirted with a triple-double on her own, scoring 26 with 13 boards and 8 blocked shots.
Big Blue controlled the contest early, and led 16-8 through the first quarter. Energy from the louder than it looked 5,527 had something to do with that, Carolina’s 3 for 16 shooting did too.
The UK lead shrank to 4, 32-28 at halftime. By the end of 3 quarters, USC had taken the lead 51-50. Hopes of repeating last year’s Senior Night upset began to fade, especially as the 6’5 Sophomore from Hopkins, S.C. was taking over.
“Pretty much the difference in the game (was) they had A’ja Wilson and we didn’t.” said Coach Mitchell in the postgame presser.
“Twentysix and 13, that’s pretty much NBA numbers,” remarked Kentucky’s Makayla Epps, who led her team with 16 points in 39 minutes of play.
The Wildcats did well on the glass, near even with the Gamecocks(43-44) in rebounding. A deceptive stat though, as Staley’s group just seemed to come up with boards in key situations, especially late. Said Mitchell, “Our free throw boxouts haven’t been that great, and that was Wilson around there again.”
Kentucky Senior point guard Janee Thompson matched Epps’ 16 points, and contributed 4 assists and 4 rebounds as well. Freshman Batouly pitchedin with 7 points and 10 boards of her own. An overall solid showing for UK, but simply not enough to bring down a team of Carolina’s caliber for an entire game.
“I thought our team came out and gave a lot of effort,” Mitchell said. “We’re just not at a state right now where we can execute well enough and sharp enough on defense where we can stop a team like that for 40 minutes.”
Next up for Matt’s Cats(13-2, 2-2) is a Sunday showdown with Auburn in the friendly confines of Memorial Coliseum, 1pm on SEC Network. UK will need to play much bigger to get on par with the UConn’s and South Carolina’s of the world and reach that elusive Final 4.
Lessons learned from tonight’s loss to USC Sr should help.