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#18 UK Hoops at #2 South Carolina: Preview and Gamethread

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Can UK pull off the W in Colonial Life Arena?

Mark Zerof-USA TODAY Sports

Just when you thought basketball season couldn't get more dramatic, Janee Thompson and Kentucky return to South Carolina to take on the undefeated Gamecocks.

The Cats desperately need a win to move up in the rankings and make their post-season goals a bit more achievable. Sitting at 15-5 overall and 4-5 in SEC play, the Cats are in the middle of a difficult stretch of its schedule, playing four of five games on the road, including three of those games against teams currently ranked in both national polls.

The stretch started Sunday at Florida, who is currently ranked No. 22 in both national polls. The Wildcats held a lead in the second quarter and had the ball at the end of a one-possession game before the Gators pulled away for an 85-79 victory.

As for South Carolina, they enter this game as one of just two undefeated teams in college basketball at 21-0. The Gamecocks are ranked No. 2 nationally by both national polls, are 10-0 at home and 9-0 in SEC play.

Here are some keys to know for this game:

  • Junior guard Makayla Epps leads Kentucky in scoring this season at 17.6 points per game. The guard has scored 20+ points in four straight games to become the first UK player to accomplish that task since Sara Potts in 2004. Epps needs just four points to become the 31st member of UK’s 1,000 point club.
  • Senior guard Janee Thompson is averaging 12.7 points per game this season and leads the team with 104 assists. Junior post player Evelyn Akhator is the third UK player averaging double figures this season with 12.1 points per game and 9.5 rebounds per game.
  • USC Sophomore forward A’ja Wilson leads the team with 16.6 points per game, senior guard Tiffany Mitchell is averaging 15.2 points per game, and USC has 10 players that are averaging 10+ minutes a game this season
  • USC junior center Alaina Coates was named SEC Player of the Week this week as she posted 12.5 points and 12.0 rebounds per game while also tying for the team lead with eight assists and a team-best .647 field goal percentage. For the season, she ranks 34th in the nation in rebounding at 9.9 boards per game and has pulled in double-digit rebounds in every SEC game this season.
  • In conference play, senior guard Tiffany Mitchell ranks among the SEC's top 10 in seven different stats -- third in scoring (16.6 ppg); fourth in free throw percentage (.804); sixth in field goal percentage (.426), steals (2.1) and assist-to-turnover ratio (1.1); and eighth in assists (3.1) and 3-pointers per game (1.6).

UK does lead the series 33-23, but the Gamecocks have a 16-9 edge in Columbia. The overall series gap closes to a 9-7 UK advantage in USC's Dawn Staley era with the Gamecocks holding a 5-3 edge in the last four seasons.

In the most recent meeting, USC rallied from an 11-point second-quarter deficit and a four-point halftime deficit to post a 73-62 win in Lexington. Mitchell and Wilson combined to score 12 of the Gamecocks' final 17 points to break a 56-56 tie with 7:24 left to play.

March 2nd is inching closer, and the Cats truly need every win they can get to ensure they earn a top-four SEC ranking and one of those important first and second-round byes in Jacksonville. This game is not one you'll want to miss. Tipoff is at 7 PM EST on the SEC Network with Paul Sunderland, Carolyn Peck and Steffi Sorensen calling the action. The game can also be seen via WatchESPN.

Live stats and free audio will be available online at ukathletics.com.

Until then Cat fans, Go Big Blue!