Sunday afternoon was far from the victorious follow-up act fans of the no. 22 ranked UK Hoops team had in mind after the thriller with Mississippi State on Thursday night.
The formidable South Carolina Gamecocks, ranked No. 7 in the nation, waited in Columbia, a victory shy of a conference championship, and Dawn Staley’s team played like it too. Kentucky kept it closer than the two’s previous meeting this month in which the Cats trailed by 27 at one point.
However, the Cats yet again had no answer for surefire SEC Player of the Year A’ja Wilson or the surging Gamecocks’ offensive attack, falling 95-87. The loss drops Kentucky to 20-9 on the year and 11-5 in conference play.
Despite the disappointing outcome, Matthew Mitchell’s team played well and look poised ahead of March Madness.
Every time UK Made Run, USC Had Answer
After a stormy start in the first quarter, in which Kentucky trailed 25 to 17 at the buzzer, the Wildcats made their move.
Fearless shooting from Mackenzie Cann and gorgeous drives from Maci Morris and Taylor Murray kept UK afloat even when the South Carolina lead ballooned to double digits. With a little under two minutes to go before halftime, Morris converted on a layup and drew Kentucky to within five points at 43-38.
Then A'ja Wilson calmly canned a jumper, and the Gamecocks quickly built their advantage back to ten points. They led at the half 48-40.
Kentucky cut the lead to five several times in the third only to see South Carolina answer with a timely basket of their own.
The closest the Cats would get again was six, 80-74, after a Morris 3 with 4:48 remaining. Allisha Davis rebounded her own miss on the other end and the subsequent put back proved to be the backbreaker for UK.
Wilson finished with 25 points and 10 rebounds, but her biggest impact on the game was the focus she commanded. Kentucky had two choices, double team Wilson or defend her teammates. Either tactic proved futile. When UK stopped Wilson, another Gamecock was there to torch them. Kaela Davis scored 20, and Davis added 17 off the bench.
The Underclassmen Shined For Kentucky
If Thursday was about the seniors, then Sunday proved that the future is bright for Kentucky. Taylor Murray, Mackenzie Cann, and Maci Morris picked up the load when Akhator and Epps struggled with foul trouble.
Cann's numbers from downtown, she finished 3-of-9, do not look great, but her willingness to keep shooting gave Kentucky a left off the bench. She finished with 15 points and two rebounds.
Morris refused to yield either when her shot failed to fall from the outside. She kept taking the Gamecocks off the dribble and did most of her damage in the paint. Morris finished with 14 points and two rebounds.
Taylor Murray played the best game of her Kentucky career during the regular season finale, scoring 29 points couples with four rebounds and five assists. She slashed through the Gamecocks defense again and again for easy layups and trips to the free throw line. Her leadership steadied the course when the seniors were on the bench.
Fouls Did the Cats In
Normally a day on which a team shoots 45 percent from the field, has their utility players go wild and gets to the free throw line 21 times (making) 18, then that team will win.
Just not when they commit 26 fouls like Kentucky did. Four of five starters ended one foul away from disqualification. Makayla Epps reached the dreaded five
South Carolina did not perform spectacualry at the line, but hitting 25-of-34 provided just enough of a hump to keep them in front the entire game.