As the howls and sputtering outrage faded into morning Tuesday, South Carolina was left with the grim truth.
There was a very reasonable excuse, but the Gamecocks still lost the game.
“I guess so,” star A’ja Wilson said of the late call that handed Jaime Nared two free throws for Tennessee’s game-winning points. “But we really can’t go off on the officiating. Just got to go and keep doing us.”
Dawn Staley had already set the message in the post-game to her disappointed team. You can’t use the whistle as an excuse, she said. It’s part of it. The only thing you can do is go play the next game.
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It certainly won’t be No. 25 Kentucky willing to give USC a break on Thursday, either. The Wildcats lost on Monday, too, and considering how spiteful the USC-Kentucky rivalry has become over the last five years, they’d love to welcome a reeling Gamecocks squad to town.
Staley and the Gamecocks’ mission is to not allow that. USC played a brilliant game against the Lady Vols, the guards performing nearly flawlessly as posts Alaina Coates and Wilson were lost for chunks of the game. Kaela Davis found her missing shot, Allisha Gray backed down from nobody in the paint and Bianca Cuevas-Moore is becoming USC’s best option when it absolutely has to have a bucket.
Now to take that anger, disappointment and heart it displayed when the game was tight and channel it into Thursday. Kentucky will try to do what Tennessee did – drive at the Gamecocks’ posts and get them in foul trouble – and its game plan has always been what the Lady Vols took advantage of on Monday.
The Wildcats’ perimeter defense is tight, designed to hound the ball-carriers and turn loose balls into transition points. They run, run, run and are constantly on the attack, just like the Lady Vols were.
That, losing Monday and that they still might be peeved over the three games USC won over them last season – including a 30-point statement in the SEC tournament – will have them ready.
The Gamecocks vowed to be ready as well.
“This is a team that really hasn’t lost a whole lot of games … and there’s a reason why we’re where we are,” Staley said. “Because we’re resilient, we’re tough, we bounce back and you’ll see a team on Thursday that’s ready to get back to their winning ways.”
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Who: No. 4 USC (18-2, 8-1 SEC) at No. 25 Kentucky (15-7, 6-3)
When: 7 p.m. Thursday
Where: Memorial Coliseum, Lexington, Ky.
TV: SEC Network
Radio: 107.5 FM
South Carolina’s probable starters: G Ty Harris 5-10 Fr. (5.0 ppg, 1.7 rpg); G Allisha Gray 6-0 Jr. (13.7 ppg, 4.7 rpg); G Kaela Davis 6-2 Jr. (12.5 ppg, 4.0 rpg); F A’ja Wilson 6-5 Jr. (16.7 ppg, 7.4 rpg); C Alaina Coates 6-4 Sr. (13.4 ppg, 11.0 rpg)
Kentucky’s probable starters: G Taylor Murray 5-6 So. (12.8 ppg, 5.5 rpg); G Makayla Epps 5-10 Sr. (16.7 ppg, 4.3 rpg); G Maci Morris 6-0 So. (11.9 ppg, 3.0 rpg); F Evelyn Akhator 6-3 Sr. (15.1 ppg, 10.4 rpg); C Alyssa Rice 6-3 Jr. (3.7 ppg, 4.6 rpg)