UK women fall on Senior Day; secure bye in SEC Tournament

LEXINGTON, Ky. – The Kentucky women’s basketball team could not overcome a poor shooting afternoon as South Carolina defeated the Wildcats 65-57 in Rupp Arena on Senior Day. Led by senior Samantha Mahoney’s (Detroit) 12 points and a season-high 11 points from junior Carly Ormerod (Louisville, Ky.), UK shot a dismal 13.6 percent (3-of-22) in the first half and just 27.6 percent (16-of-58) for the game.

“I am very disappointed in the outcome today,” UK Coach Matthew Mitchell said. “It was a very tough loss. In the first half, we did not do very well defensively. We have to give a lot of credit to South Carolina, because they came out and played very tough and aggressive. I really compliment their effort today.”

In the final regular-season home game for seniors Chante’ Bowman (Detroit), Chelsea Chowning (Berea, Ky.), Sarah Elliott (McKee, Ky.), and Mahoney, the Wildcats fell behind early as the Gamecocks jumped out to a 9-0 lead. UK would not hit its first field goal for over seven minutes in the game. Despite struggling from the field, the Cats managed claw back by finding their way to the free throw line. UK hit eight free throws to pull within three, 15-12, with 8:51 to go. But another scoring drought saw, which saw Kentucky go scoreless for eight-plus minutes from the field, allowed USC to extend its lead to 13 (25-12) with 6:00 to go. The Gamecocks would go on to a 33-14 advantage at the half. They also outrebounded the Cats 26-13. UK hit 12-of-20 from the charity stripe but only 3-of-22 from the field.

“It’s hard to win a game when you only make 16 field goals and only three in one half,” Mitchell said. “That makes it very difficult to win in this league. It was a tough day for us and a sad day for our seniors, because they were not able to make this a truly special day.”

Kentucky came out aggressive in the second half, using a 12-5 run to cut USC’s lead to seven (38-31) with 15:21 to go. The Cats then went on a 10-0 run to pull within two (46-44) with 7:15 left. Ormerod and junior Eleia Roddy (Columbus, Ohio) combined for seven of the 10 points during that span. Roddy finished the game with nine points, eight rebounds, and two blocks in 23 minutes.

The game remained tight in the final seven minutes but UK could not find its scoring groove. Trailing only two points, 51-49, with 3:17 left, the Cats watched as USC went on another scoring spree to take a 10-point led (59-49) with 1:30 on the clock. A three-point play by Ormerod cut it to seven (59-52) but the Gamecocks hit 6-of-8 free throws in the closing 1:15 to win 65-57.

The Cats were forced to play much of the game without leading rebounder in Elliott who sat with foul trouble, including two early in the first half. She fouled out with 4:09 left, recording two points and no rebounds in just eight minutes. Freshman Victoria Dunlap (Nashville, Tenn.) helped the battle on the boards as she charted a team-high 10 rebounds, including a career-high seven offensive.

“There was a lot of pressure on everyone in this game today,” Mitchell said. “We knew coming into the SEC portion of our schedule that we would have to win a lot of games. This was the first time that we have come out against an opponent that we had a better record than in the SEC and didn’t get the job done. We need to go down to Nashville with the mindset of winning the SEC tournament. That’s what I just told the team. We have to get past this game and move forward and try to learn something from it.”

South Carolina was led by Lakesha Tolliver with 21 points and 12 rebounds. The Gamecocks shot 39.6 percent from the field (21-of-53) and outrebounded UK 43-39.

UK is now 26-15 overall against the Gamecocks, including a 14-5 mark when playing in Lexington.

For the second time in three years, the Kentucky women’s basketball team secured a first-round bye in the Southeastern Conference Tournament as the fourth seed. The Wildcats will face the winner of fifth-seeded Georgia and 12th-seeded Alabama Friday, March 7 at 7:30 p.m. EST in the second round. Game time is slated for 7:30 p.m. EST at The Sommet Center in Nashville, Tenn. The game will be carried live on FSN South and the Big Blue Sports network (radio) with Neil Price.

“We are really excited to achieve a first-round bye in the SEC Tournament,” UK Coach Matthew Mitchell said. “It’s a testament to our players’ perseverance. We have so much respect for this conference and to be in the top four in the SEC says a lot about our players and how hard they have worked throughout the season.”

Public tickets for the 2008 SEC Tournament can be purchased through the Sommet Center (615-770-2000) and Ticketmaster. Tickets may also be purchased through one of the member institutions' ticket offices according to each school's ticket policies. Tickets prices are: reserved tournament book, $75; general admission Dr Pepper Six-Pack tournament book, $45; reserved single-session (six sessions total), $15; and general admission single-session, $10.

Georgia (21-8, 8-6 SEC) earned the fifth seed after falling to No. 3 Tennessee, 72-63, Sunday in Athens, Ga. Kentucky, also with an 8-6 league record, is fourth by winning the head-to-head tie against UGA. UK defeated the then-ranked No. 17/14 Lady Bulldogs during the regular season, 47-44. Alabama is the 12th seed after finishing with an 8-21 overall record, 1-13 in the SEC. UK also defeated the Tide during the regular season, 64-44, in Lexington.

UK (14-14, 8-6 SEC) completed the regular season just one win shy of a school-record nine SEC victories. The Wildcats have won at least six SEC games three straight seasons and have participated in post-season play three consecutive years.
UK is 17-26 all-time in the SEC Tournament and holds a 5-12 (29.4) mark in second round games.