COLUMBIA, S.C. – The Kentucky women’s basketball team improves to 4-1 in the Southeastern Conference as the Wildcats escaped South Carolina with a hard-fought 66-62 win Thursday night in the Colonial Center. Sophomore Amani Franklin (Decatur, Ga.) scored a career-high 21 points in the win while freshman Amber Smith (Winter Haven, Fla.) followed with 13 points and four steals.
“We are really happy to win this game,” UK Coach Matthew Mitchell said. “We struggled to separate ourselves from South Carolina but this was a physical, hard-fought game. It wasn’t pretty but we found a way to win.”
The Wildcats (10-9, 4-1 Southeastern Conference) led by as many as 11 points with 10 minutes remaining in the second half after back-to-back three-pointers from Franklin and Mahoney. USC (11-8, 0-4 SEC) continued to fight back, clawing within four points, 53-49, with 8:41 to go. UK extended its lead back to nine late in the game (60-51) before the Gamecocks used an 8-0 run to cut the lead to one, 60-59 with 1:32 remaining. An offensive rebound and put-back by senior Sarah Elliott (McKee, Ky.), gave the Cats a four-point advantage (63-59) lead with 1:19 to go.
“I’ve said this before that our non-conference schedule helped prepare us for games like this,” Mitchell said. “We have been in these close situations so many times this season and we felt confident at the end of the game that we would win. I’m just so proud of this team and their grit down the stretch.”
Senior Chelsea Chowning (Berea, Ky.) was fouled with :26 seconds to go but missed both free throws attempts. However, on her second attempt and with only South Carolina players lined up to rebound, Chowning grabbed her own miss and was fouled again. This time she hit both shots to give the Wildcats a four-point lead, 65-59. The Gamecocks would not go away, however, as USC’s Brionna Dickerson hit a three-pointer with 15.1 seconds left in the game, cutting the lead to three, 65-62. USC’s final three-point attempt with :05.4 seconds was off the mark and senior Chante Bowman was fouled on the rebound. She hit 1-of-2 with 02.9 left to give the Cats their final 66-62 win. A total of 50 fouls were called in the game.
Twelve of 19 games this season have been decided by 10 points or less and UK now holds a 7-5 record in those games. Six games have been by five points or less and the Wildcats are 3-3 in those games.
Red-shirt junior Eleia Roddy played a season-high 17 minutes in the game and led UK on the boards with seven. The Wildcats were outrebounded for the first time in three games, 40-37. Seniors Elliott and Samantha Mahoney (Detroit) scored six and eight points, respectively.
The Wildcats, who start SEC play at 4-1 in the SEC for the first time since the 2005-06 season, hit 18-of-28 free throws and scored 16 points off 20 Gamecock turnovers.
Freshman Jordan Jones led USC with 16 points. Ilona Burgrova and Demetress Adams followed with 15 and 11 points, respectively.
The first half was a sloppy, see-saw affair as both teams recorded double-digit turnovers, including 16 from South Carolina. The teams shot evenly from the field at 33.3 percent (8-of-24) but Kentucky protected its lead by hitting 8-of-11 free throws in the first half. Franklin led all scorers with 13 points. UK’s largest lead was five and the Cats led 26-23 at intermission. Five other Wildcats combined for 15 points. UK leading scorers Elliott and Mahoney combined for just five points and two rebounds in the first half. The Gamecocks controlled the boards in the first half, 21-13.
UK now leads the all-time series over USC 26-14. This is the first of two meetings with the Gamecocks this season as UK also will play host to USC on March 2 in Rupp Arena.
The Wildcats return home for their next game Sunday, Jan. 27 in Rupp Arena. Join the UK Hoops team as they “Pack the House” against No. 9 LSU. Go to UKathletics.com to receive general admission seating for just $1! Coupons must be redeemed at Rupp Arena on game day.