UK Hoops to host South Carolina

LEXINGTON, Ky. – With just four regular-season games remaining, the 15th-ranked Kentucky women’s basketball team will play host to No. 4/6 South Carolina on Thursday, Feb. 19 in a crucial conference matchup in Memorial Coliseum. The game will tip at 7 p.m. ET on The CW Lexington.

“It’s another big challenge for us,” UK Hoops head coach Matthew Mitchell said. “We’ll have to really work hard and prepare well for a good South Carolina team. They got the better of us over in Columbia, so we need to work hard and see if we can even the season series up here on Thursday night.”

UK fell in the teams’ first meeting this season in Columbia, S.C., 68-59, on Jan. 9. The Wildcats scored a then season-low 59 points and shot a season-low 31.5 percent from the field, connecting on just 23-of-73 field goal attempts, including 1-of-8 from beyond the arc (12.5 percent). UK clawed back from a 22-point second-half deficit to pull within eight with 1:29 to go in the game but could get no closer, falling to the Gamecocks for the second straight season on the road.

The Wildcats (19-6, 7-5) currently sit in a three-way tie for fourth place in the Southeastern Conference standings with Florida and LSU, while the Gamecocks lead league at 23-2 overall, 11-1 in SEC play. Their lone SEC loss came in overtime at Texas A&M, 67-65.

UK looks to ride the momentum of its historic 75-71 win over eighth-ranked Tennessee on Sunday and chart its school-record fifth consecutive 20-win season. The Cats are also looking for their fifth win over a ranked opponent this season, including fourth over a top-10 team.

Leading a very balanced scoring attack for the Wildcats is junior point guard Jennifer O’Neill (Bronx, N.Y.) and senior forward DeNesha Stallworth (Richmond, Calif.). After putting up a game-high 24 points vs. the Lady Vols on Sunday, O’Neill now averages a team-high 13.4 points per game, while Stallworth, who had 17 points and nine rebounds vs. UT, follows with 11.7 points per game. Narrowly missing the double-digit scoring mark is senior forward Samarie Walker (West Carrollton, Ohio) with 9.9 ppg, junior guard Bria Goss (Indianapolis) with 9.8 ppg, sophomore point guard Janee Thompson (Chicago) with 9.7 ppg and senior guard Kastine Evans (Salem, Conn.) with 9.4 ppg. Walker is the team’s leading rebounder 8.8 rebounds per game, a mark that ranks tied for third in the SEC.

For the Gamecocks, sophomore guard Tiffany Mitchell averages a team-high 15.3 points per game, while Junior forward Aleighsa Welch follows with 13.9 points and 7.6 rebound per game. Freshman center Alaina Coates rounds out the double-digit scorers with 12.1 points per game to go with a team-leading 7.8 rebounds per game.

South Carolina leads the SEC in scoring margin (+20.6), field goal percentage (.487), field goal percentage defense (.342), rebounding defense (31.0), and blocked shots (7.1). USC’s 7.1 blocked shots per game rank third in the country, while field goal percentage and field goal percentage defense is fifth nationally. The Gamecocks are coached by Dawn Staley, who is in her sixth year at the helm.

Thursday will mark the 52nd meeting in the all-time series vs. South Carolina. UK leads the all-time series 31-20, including a 19-5 advantage when playing in Lexington. The Wildcats have won the last nine meetings in Memorial against the Gamecocks. UK’s last loss at home came in Rupp Arena, 65-57, on March 2, 2008. UK’s last loss in Memorial to USC was Feb. 2, 2003 (49-46).

The last six games have been decided by nine points or less against the Gamecocks. The Cats went 3-3 in those games.

This marks the 19th straight season UK and USC have played twice in a season. South Carolina is UK’s permanent SEC home-and-home opponent.

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