When South Carolina coach Dawn Staley previewed the contest against Kentucky, she admitted her team was going to turn it over against the Wildcats full-court pressure defense.
She said the key would be how the Gamecocks got back on defense to stop Kentucky from turning those miscues into easy points.
The Gamecocks limited the number of turnovers and escaped with a 66-61 victory against the No. 15 Wildcats on Thursday night at Colonial Life Arena. It was USC’s fourth victory in five games.
“I think our players really made a concentrated effort to take care of the ball,” Staley said. “When we didn’t take care of it, we defended our turnovers. Sometimes, when you give a team their strength back at them, they don’t handle that part of it well. I thought our players executed the game plan to a ‘T’.”
It was USC’s second straight home victory against a ranked team. The Gamecocks beat then-No. 20 Georgia 57-48 on Jan. 27. The Gamecocks (14-10, 6-5 SEC) now have the same league record they did a year ago before losing four of five down the stretch to finish under .500.
USC turned it over 14 times — half the number they had in a loss to the Wildcats earlier this season. Kentucky came in forcing 25 turnovers per game, but with the exception of one stretch in the second half, the Wildcats (18-6, 7-4) had a hard time forcing the Gamecocks into bad decisions. USC held a 21-13 advantage on points off turnovers.
“We worked on beating the traps, getting out quickly and drag-dribbling and working together and communicating,” USC guard La’Keisha Sutton said. “Our preparation was good.”
Sutton and Ieasia Walker each scored 17 points to pace the Gamecocks. They were able to penetrate the Kentucky defense and get their shots off in the lane. South Carolina scored 40 points in the paint and didn’t make a 3-pointer on six attempts. Only five of their 25 field goals came outside of the paint.
The Gamecocks finished with two assists, both by Sutton, so they were finishing when they had the opportunity.
“We wanted to attack the basket and use our speed,” Walker said. “We felt we were quicker than the guards that were guarding us so we took advantage of the mismatch.”
Markeshia Grant continued her recent stellar play with 12 points. She scored eight points during a 14-2 run by USC in the first half that gave the Gamecocks a lead they would never relinquish.
The Wildcats led 12-8 when Grant started the run with a layup. Walker knocked down a jumper on the next possession before Grant scored six consecutive points as the Gamecocks scored on seven straight trips down the floor to take a 22-14 lead.
They held the Kentucky duo of Victoria Dunlap and A’dia Mathies, who came in averaging 30 points per game, to six points in the first half.
USC led 30-24 at halftime and increased that to 12 points early in the second half. The margin stayed between eight and 12 points for most of the half until the Wildcats made a late run. Kentucky twice pulled within three points, but the Wildcats could never get any closer as they lost their second straight after winning seven in a row.
“I thought they were so much more physical than we were,” Kentucky coach Matthew Mitchell said. “I thought we backed down a little bit. They were really tougher than us. Nothing fancy, just good old fashion hard-nosed play. I commend them for it. It was something to watch.”
|KENTUCKY||Min||FG M-A||FT M-A||REB O-T||A||PF||PTS|
Percentages: FG .418, FT .684.
3-Point Goals: 2-8, .250 (Conwright 1-2, O'Neill 1-2, Evans 0-1, Snowden 0-1, Mathies 0-2).
Team Rebounds: 4.
Blocked Shots: 5 (Henderson 3, Dunlap 2).
Turnovers: 18 (Conwright 5, Mathies 3, Evans 3, Pinkett 2, O'Neill 2, Dunlap, Henderson, Riley).
Steals: 7 (Dunlap 2, Pinkett 2, Conwright 2, O'Neill).
Technical Fouls: None.
|SOUTH CAROLINA||Min||FG M-A||FT M-A||REB O-T||A||PF||PTS|
Percentages: FG .455, FT .762.
3-Point Goals: 0-6, .000 (Sutton 0-1, Walker 0-1, Grant 0-2, Nainima 0-2).
Team Rebounds: 3.
Blocked Shots: 5 (May 3, Grant, Newton).
Turnovers: 14 (Sutton 5, Bruner 4, Nainima 2, May 2, Kennedy).
Steals: 10 (Walker 4, Grant 2, Bruner 2, Sutton, May).
Technical Fouls: None.
Officials: Wesley Dean, Roy Gulbeyan, Billy Smith.