Following the Kentucky women’s basketball team’s four-point loss to Georgia last Thursday night, Coach Matthew Mitchell strongly encouraged junior guard Amani Franklin (Stone Mountain, Ga.), who went 2-for-9 in that outing, to shoot the ball more.
On Sunday at South Carolina, she responded to her coach’s challenge.
Franklin scored a career-high 28 points and the Wildcats used a strong second-half charge to defeat South Carolina 70-53 in the final regular-season game for both teams at Colonial Life Arena.
The Wildcats (15-14, 5-9 Southeastern Conference), who trailed by as many as six points in the game’s first half, were down 38-37 with 16:07 remaining in the game. Back-to-back baskets by sophomore forward Victoria Dunlap (Nashville, Tenn.) sparked a 13-4 run that put Kentucky ahead 50-42 with 10:55 left. South Carolina (10-17, 2-12 SEC) never got closer than six points the rest of the way.
Franklin, who became the first UK player to score 25 or more points since Samantha Mahoney had 30 against James Madison on March 26, 2008 in the third round of the Women’s National Invitational Tournament, scored 11 of her 28 points in the second half Sunday as the key charge behind the Wildcats’ second-half comeback. She hit 6-of-7 from the floor, 3-of-3 from beyond the arc and 6-of-6 from the free-throw line all in the second half. Franklin also added a team-high seven rebounds.
“It was a much-needed performance by Amani Franklin,” Mitchell said. “I was confident that Amani could do it; I knew she could be a major score in this league. I’m just so proud she was able to get it done today.”
Franklin was one of three Wildcats to score in double figures as Dunlap finished with 18 points, five rebounds and three steals. Senior forward Eleia Roddy (Columbus, Ohio) added 12 points on 5-of-7 shooting with four rebounds.
Kentucky shot 51.0 percent (26-of-51) from the floor for the game, its highest in a league game this season, while limiting the Gamecocks to just 36.8 percent (21-of-57) from the field. The Wildcats won the rebound battle 33-31.
South Carolina took a 29-27 advantage into the locker room at intermission after a first half that saw four lead changes and a tie. A stifling Kentucky zone defense limited the Gamecocks to just 36.7 percent (11-of-30) from the field, but early foul trouble to the Wildcats’ Franklin, Roddy and Amber Smith (Winter Haven, Fla.) – each of whom played 12 or fewer minutes in the opening period – minimized Kentucky’s effectiveness. The Wildcats shot 46.2 percent (12-of-26) from the floor in the opening period.
South Carolina scored the game’s first four points to take an early 4-0 advantage at the 18:31 mark of the opening period but, from there, the two teams battled evenly for the next three minutes. With Kentucky trailing by just two, 8-6, with 15:22 left in the half after a jumper by Franklin, the Gamecocks went on a 5-2 run over the next four-plus minutes to go in front 13-8. Morrow and Dunlap responded with back-to-back baskets to bring the Cats within one, 13-12, heading into a media timeout with 10:38 remaining.
After South Carolina used a 5-0 run to take an 18-12 lead on a three-pointer by C.J. Pace, who finished with nearly a double-double in the first half with 10 points and seven rebounds, Kentucky ran off 10 consecutive points to go up 22-18 with 5:09 left until intermission. Franklin and Morrow each tallied a three-pointer during that span. The Gamecocks nailed back-to-back baskets to cap off a 6-1 run and take a 24-23 lead at the 2:46 mark. Dunlap registered consecutive hoops to bring the Cats in front at 27-24 with 43 ticks left until halftime, but South Carolina closed the period on a 5-0 run.
The two teams battled evenly to begin the second half until the Wildcats, trailing 38-37, reclaimed the advantage at 41-40 after consecutive baskets by Dunlap. Those hoops sparked Kentucky’s 13-4 run, which were critical to the team’s late-game comeback effort.
South Carolina was led by Pace’s team-high 14 points.
Kentucky returns to action on Thursday as the No. 10 seed in the upcoming Southeastern Conference Tournament, which takes place this week in North Little Rock, Ark. The Cats will face No. 7 seed Georgia on Thursday, March 5 at 3:30 p.m. EST in a game that will be televised live on FSN South and will air on the Big Blue Sports Network (radio) with Neil Price.