COLUMBIA, S.C. – Freshman guard A’dia Mathies (Louisville, Ky.) scored a career-high 20 points but it wouldn’t be enough as the Kentucky women’s basketball team fell to South Carolina 79-71 Thursday night in the Colonial Life Arena. Junior point guard Amber Smith (Winter Haven, Fla.) followed with 19 points while junior forward Victoria Dunlap (Nashville, Tenn.) and senior forward Lydia Watkins (Hopkinsville, Ky.) added 10 points each.
Kentucky (13-3, 1-2 Southeastern Conference) had no answer for South Carolina’s 6-5 center Kelsey Bone who led all scorers and rebounders with 23 points and nine rebounds. Four other Gamecocks scored in double-figures and USC outrebounded UK, 40-29.
“This game with South Carolina looks like one of the toughest matchups in the league for us, because of Bone,” UK Hoops Coach Matthew Mitchell said. “If she is able to play using her arms in the post, we can’t get around her and it is tough to stay in front of her on defense so it is tough to guard. We will have to run some schemes to figure out how to stop her in the future. She is just a really big and a really talented player. She had a fine game and she was just a really tough player tonight.”
The first half was a back-and-fourth see-saw battle that saw four ties and seven lead changes. UK scored the first four points but found itself trailing by eight (22-14) with 11:15 remaining in the half. A three-pointer by Amani Franklin (Stone Mountain, Ga.) sparked an 11-0 run and helped the Cats regained a 25-24 lead with 6:54 to go. Bone stopped the scoring drought for the Gamecocks (9-7, 2-2 SEC), netting back-to-back buckets for four of her 10 points at the break. USC went on a 13-6 run from there to take a 37-33 halftime advantage.
UK played most of the first half without Dunlap, its leading scorer and rebounder, as she picked up her second foul with 11:15 left. Watkins helped fill the void of Dunlap as she scored seven of her 10 points and grabbed four rebounds and two steals in the opening stanza.
In the second half, Smith hit a jumper to pull UK within one point (39-38) with 18:40 remaining in the game but South Carolina took over from there. The Gamecocks went on a 22-9 run to take a 61-47 lead with 9:47 left.
“Amber went to war tonight,” Mitchell said. “She is a tough player and she is really coming into her own and playing well. If we hadn’t had her tonight it would have been really rough. She was the only one, minus maybe Brittany Henderson, who really brought it tonight.”
Mathies hit both of her three-pointers with 1:17 to go to pull the Cats with eight, 77-69, but they could get no closer and South Carolina held on for the win.
“Mathies is trying to find her way,” Mitchell said. Her mentality is not as aggressive as some freshman in the league. If she could develop the same kind of mentality, she could really explode into one of the top players in the league. She is just playing at times early in her career lacking in confidence. She can really have some big nights. She is so talented. It is all mental and maybe this is a turning point for her tonight. We ran some plays for her and she attacked with some confidence. She is going to be a big, big player here.”
USC shot 55.4 percent from the field (31-of-56), snapping the Cats’ 17-game streak of holding the opponent under 50 percent shooting. UK hit just 38.5 percent from the floor (25-of-65), including 36.7 percent in the second half. USC also outscored the undersized Cats 52-30 in points in the paint.
UK still holds a 26-17 lead in the all-time series with South Carolina, but trails 8-12 when the game is played in Columbia. UK will face the Gamecocks again on Feb. 21 in Lexington.
The Wildcats return to Memorial Coliseum Sunday, Jan. 16 vs. Alabama for the first of three straight home games. UK will play host to the Crimson Tide at 2 p.m. EST. The game will be televised live on the SEC Network and broadcast on the Big Blue Sports Radio Network with Neil Price.