LEXINGTON, Ky. – Fresh off an impressive 63-53 upset of No. 17/16 Vanderbilt on Sunday in Lexington, the Kentucky women’s basketball team must now focus on charting its first conference road win of the season when it takes on South Carolina Thursday, Jan. 14. Game time in the Colonial Life Arena in Columbia, S.C., is 7 p.m. EST and the contest will be broadcast live on the Big Blue Sports Network (radio) with Neil Price. Fans in Lexington can hear the game live on WLAP 630-AM.
UK (13-2, 1-1 Southeastern Conference), which leads the league and ranks second nationally in turnover margin (+10.5), turned Vanderbilt over 26 times in the team's first win over a ranked foe since defeating No. 13 Tennessee last year. The win also snapped a 13-game losing streak to the Commodores, marking UK’s first win over VU since 1999. After a day off, the Cats returned to practice yesterday and third-year UK Hoops head coach Matthew Mitchell praised his team’s attitude.
“We had a great practice yesterday,” Mitchell said. “We had a very enthusiastic and energetic attitude. That’s the key for us. We have to have that every day. That sounds simple, but it is difficult to do, to keep your attitude right every day. That’s the only chance we have to be successful in this league, if we can repeat that day after day. This team has a chance to be pretty good if we can keep that kind of attitude.”
The Gamecocks (8-7, 1-2 SEC) are looking for their SEC home win after defeating Alabama on the road Sunday, 80-68. Their two losses came against No. 11/12 LSU (58-70) and at No. 4/4 Tennessee (62-79).
“This will be a difficult game for us,” Mitchell said. “South Carolina was picked quite a bit higher than us in the preseason polls and after I have watched them on tape, I can see why. They are really talented, and they have two of the top scorers in the conference. Valerie Nainima is an explosive scoring guard, she can make three’s, and she is there in the top two or three in the conference in scoring, so that gives them a real threat on the outside. Kelsey Bone is one of the most talented players we will play all season. A game on the road against a very talented team will be tough, so our players will have to be extremely focused and locked in to what they need to do to have a chance to go get a win. ”
Nainima, a 5-5 guard, leads the Gamecocks and ranks third in the SEC in scoring, averaging 18.7 points per game. She led five players in double-figure points in the win over Alabama with a game-high 21 points. Bone, a 6-5 center, will be tough to handle in the front court as she leads the SEC and ranks 26th nationally in rebounding, averaging 10.0 per game. She recorded 14 points and 13 rebounds in the Gamecocks’ last game.
Junior All-SEC forward Victoria Dunlap (Nashville, Tenn.) is UK’s leader in almost every UK statistical category. She is tops on the team in scoring (18.1 ppg), rebounding (9.3 rpg), steals (4.1 spg) and blocks (2.3). Following Dunlap in the scoring column is freshman guard A’dia Mathies (Louisville, Ky.) and junior point Amber Smith (Winter Haven, Fla.) with 11.4 and 10.5 ppg, respectively. Senior guard Amani Franklin (Stone Mountain, Ga.), who posted her sixth career double-double with 11 points and 11 rebounds vs. Vanderbilt, is second in rebounding with 7.2 rpg.
Thursday will mark the 43rd meeting in the all-time series against South Carolina. UK owns a 26-16 lead overall and has won two in a row against the Gamecocks, but trails 8-11 when the game is played in Columbia. UK won both meetings last year, taking a 61-47 win in Lexington and a 70-53 victory in Columbia.
It also marks the 15th straight season that UK and USC have met twice in a season. South Carolina is UK’s permanent home-and-home opponent. The Cats also face Auburn, Arkansas, Georgia and Vanderbilt twice this year. The Gamecocks will travel to Lexington on Sunday, Feb. 21 for the Cats’ Senior Day in Memorial Coliseum.