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The ‘Cats entered Thursday nights matchup having lost their first 4 SEC matchups of the year and 7 of their last 8 games (only win coming against Ohio, 95-86). On the flip side, South Carolina arrived in Lexington with an undefeated record (16-0) and nationally ranked as No. 1 in the country. The Gamecocks also clocked into the latest NET rankings as No. 1, while the ‘Cats checked in ranked No. 99. South Carolina is a well-rounded and deep team that executes offensively and locks teams down on the defensive end. The Gamecocks defense has held opponents to an average of just 44 PPG on the season. Souht Carolina has also not been in many close games so far this season, with their average win margin being 36.9-points this season. The Gamecocks are led by Zia Cooke (15.0 PPG), Aliyah Boston (11.5 PPG, 9.3 RPG), and Kamilla Cardoso (9.3 PPG, 7.9 RPG). For the ‘Cats, their leading offensive contributors are Robyn Benton (16.3 PPG), Jada Walker (12.4 PPG, 3.6 APG), and Maddie Scherr (8.8 PPG, 5.7 RPG, 5.1 APG). The keys to the game for the ‘Cats to pull off the potential upset were limiting turnovers (17.9 per game), heating up from beyond the arc (26.8% as a team this season), front-court defense (limiting Boston and Cordoso), and establishing a consistent offensive rhythm. This was the first matchup between the two teams since last seasons SEC Championship game, where the ‘Cats finished a Cinderella-esque run with a 64-62 win over the Gamecocks.

The starting lineup for the ‘Cats included Benton, Walker, Scherr, Green, and Leveretter.

Game Recap:

The game scoring started with a driving layup by Walker to put the ‘Cats in front. After back-to-back buckets by Boston for the Gamecocks, Walker again drove in for a score to tie the game at 4. The Gamecocks started 4 for 4 shooting from the field. Benton picked up her second foul just 3-minutes into the game and would not return in the first half. The next few minutes featured a Scherr mid-range jumper and another Walker driving layup. The Gamecocks utilized a mismatch on the block throughout the period and game, consistently getting the ball to Boston and Cardoso for easy scores. Scherr hit a three at the top of the key that brought the score to 18-13 Gamecocks with 2:47 to play in the first. The home Memorial crowd erupted after a defensive stop before the media timeout. Walker and Scherr combined to score all of the ‘Cats first 13 points. Scherr hit another jumper before the shot clock buzzer and brought the score to 20-15 South Carolina. The ‘Cats hit two free-throws to end the first quarter scoring and left the score at 20-17 at the end of the first. The Gamecocks scored 16 of their 20 first quarter points in the paint and shot 64% form the field. Walker led the way in first quarter scoring for the ‘Cats with 9-points while Scherr added in 7-points of her own in the quarter.

The second quarter began with good ball movement from the ‘Cats that saw Petty find Leveretter to bring the score to 20-19 South Carolina. A step-back three from Scherr pushed the ‘Cats in front 22-20 with 8:30 to play in the half. A steal and push ahead in transition by Scherr found Walker for an easy layup to push the lead to 24-20. Cambridge stole another errant pass from the Gamecocks and the ‘Cats found Scherr for another open three that fell as the ‘Cats took a 27-20 lead. The ‘Cats started the second quarter on a 12-0 run before the Gamecocks scored their first point of the quarter at the line with 6:14 remaining in the half, bringing the score to 29-21 ‘Cats. Scherr stops and pops for another mid-range jumper to put the ‘Cats in front by 10, 31-21. The ‘Cats led 31-23 at the media timeout in the second quarter. The Gamecocks responded with a 12-0 run of their own that saw the ‘Cats lead disappear and South Carolina take the lead with a score of 33-31 with 2:15 to play in the half. The ‘Cats ended a 16-0 South Carolina run with a mid-range Adeyeye jumper that left the halftime score at 37-33 South Carolina. In a quarter in which the ‘Cats began with a 12-0 run, the Gamecocks ended the quarter outscoring the ‘Cats 17-16. Scherr led the ‘Cats offensive attack with 15 first half points. Walker added 13-points in the half. Cooke led the Gamecocks with 16-points while Boston mixed in 12 first half points. The ‘Cats committed only 6 first half turnovers and converted 8 Gamecock turnovers into 11 points. The first half for the ‘Cats featured improved defensive energy (created 8 turnovers in the first 15-minutes of action), a focused attack on offense (crisp passes, good picks, got the ball to desired position) and different rotations that brought an influx of energy to the team and crowd.

The second half began with a South Carolina layup that brought the score to 39-33 Gamecocks. The ‘Cats first points of the second half came via a Green mid-range jumper. Scherr followed up with a jumper of her own that brought the score to 41-37 South Carolina. South Carolina jumped out to an 8-point lead, 45-37, before Elzy took a timeout to regroup with 7:22 to play in the third. Benton scored her first points of the game on a mid-range jumper with 5:46 left in the third to bring the score to 47-41 Gamecocks. Cambridge drew a charge in transition for the ‘Cats that re-ignited the crowd as the score sat at 48-41 South Carolina at the media timeout. Benton nailed a three out of the timeout to bring the score to 48-44 with 4:14 left in the third. Benton drove to the paint and scored again, bringing the score to 48-46 Gamecocks. Walker hit a driving layup just before the shot clock buzzer to push the score to 50-48 Gamecocks. South Carolina responded with a three to re-extend their lead to 5, 53-48 with 1:56 to play in the third. The score at the end of the third quarter was 59-51 South Carolina.  Benton led the ‘Cats with 7-points in the quarter.

The final quarter began with a South Carolina putback. That score was quickly followed by a Scherr three that brought the score to 61-54 Gamecocks. South Carolina went on a 9-3 run and quickly pushed their lead to 13 at 70-57. The ‘Cats committed 5 turnovers in the first 3-minutes of the fourth quarter. The Gamecocks went 6 for 6 form the field on their way to stretching their lead to 20 by a score of 79-59 with 4-minutes to play in the game. A 12-0 Gamecocks run ended via a Scherr three that brought the score to 84-62 with 2:55 to play. The fourth quarter featured a lot of South Carolina easy layups as they went 13 for 17 from the field in the quarter on their way to 36 fourth quarter points. The ‘Cats were outscored 36-15 in the final quarter. The final score was 95-66 South Carolina. That score does not reveal how close the game was throughout the first three quarters of action. Those three quarters were arguably the best this team has played at any point this season. Nevertheless, the ‘Cats have begun conference play with an 0-5 record and moved to 8-9 on the season.

South Carolina shot a sparkling 64% from the field in the game and 40% from three (only 5 threes attempted in the game). The ‘Cats shot 42% from the field and also posted 40% from beyond the arc. The Gamecocks narrowly outrebounded the ‘Cats by a count of 35-29. Kentucky finished the game with 15 total turnovers. Scherr led the way for the ‘Cats on offense with a line of 25 points, 4 rebounds, and 6 assists. Walker added 17 points and Benton posted 10 points as the only three ‘Cats in double figures. Cambridge posted the best plus/minus total in the game with a +1 (!!!) in 22-minutes of action.  

The ‘Cats next matchup is Sunday, January 15th when they make the trip to Gainesville to take on the Florida Gators (12-5, 1-3 SEC). Tipoff is scheduled for 3:00 p.m. The game will be televised on the SEC Network.

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