Friday, January 10, 2014

Gamecocks Height and Defense Too Much for Wildcats (Recap of Kentucky v. South Carolina Women's Basketball Game)

Starting play Thursday night, six SEC teams were ranked in the Top 25.    Two of those other ranked SEC teams - #9 Kentucky and #10 South Carolina faced each other on Thursday night at Colonial Life Arena.  The Gamecocks were coming off two straight SEC wins, a four point win at Arkansas, which was only the Razorbacks second loss of the season and a ten point home win over Vanderbilt, which was only the third loss on the season for the Commodores.

This was my second South Carolina Women's Basketball game of the season, having seen Dawn Staley's team defeat Seton Hall with a strong second half in their game from earlier in the season.  Thursday night was what I thought was going to be a solo night for me.  My color analyst, aka my older son Matthew, had taken a nap when he got home for school.  Thus he had not done his homework yet, which is my requirement for him joining me for weeknight basketball games.  So I purchased a ticket at the arena, got dinner -cheesesteak, fries and water (hey, had to have something healthy) and sat in a seat as close as I could to the court.

I saw that my friend and fellow former Mid Majority Season 8 writer, Ian McCormick, the king of South Carolina college basketball coverage, tweeted that he was there and I invited him to join me.  Before he got there, a third year USC law student that I know, Courtney, sat in the row in front of me, said hi and we started chatting.  Then Ian joined us, which made for a nice USC basketball community on a Thursday evening.

Going into Thursday night's contest, the Wildcats were the highest scoring team in the SEC, averaging 92 points per game.  And early on, Kentucky was living up to its scoring average, as they jumped out to a 10-4 lead on the Gamecocks.  South Carolina was struggling from the field at the onset missing on four of five field goal attempts and committing four turnovers in the first four minutes.

But once freshman sensation Alaina Coates came into the game, everything changed.  Coates, who Ian once saw score 47 points in a high school game as a ninth grader, dominated the inside defensively for the Gamecocks.  During this time, the Gamecocks clamped down on the Wildcats starting with about fifteen minutes left in the half.  Over the span of twelve and a half minutes, Kentucky was held to two of nineteen from the field.  That got the Gamecock fans energized and into the game. South Carolina fed off the now electric crowd and went on a 19-8 run over the span of twelve and a half minutes and took a 23-18 lead.

The next few minutes saw both teams go back and forth with the Gamecocks holding onto a 25-22 lead.   Then South Carolina scored the next seven points to go up 32-22.  They would maintain that ten point lead at halftime, 34-24.

At halftime, Cocky led a large group of kids in a round of "The Chicken Dance".  It looked like the kids were swarming Cocky, much like the Gamecocks did to the Wildcats over the last fifteen minutes of the first half.  The start of the second wouldn't get any better for Kentucky.

The second half saw the Gamecocks pick up right where they left off, defensively.  This time South Carolina had a block party as they swatted away six shots in the first five and a half minutes of the second half.  The highest scoring team in the SEC was being completely stymied by the taller, stronger Gamecocks.  Coates, Aleigsha Welch and Elem Ibiam were just too much inside for the Wildcats.  South Carolina would set a team record fourteen blocks in the game, six by Ibiam.

The result was a 20-8 run by the Gamecocks over the first eleven and a half minutes as they took a commanding 54-32 lead.  . During the run, Welch scored seven points while Ibiam contributed five points.  When the Gamecocks went up twenty two, while there was only an announced crowd of about 5700 for the game, it was by far the loudest crowd I had heard all season, either for women's or men's games.

But you can only keep a high scoring team like Kentucky for so long. They would respond with a 19-5 run in a little over five minutes to cut the deficit to eight, 59-51.  The Wildcats would score on eight straight possessions and were abetted by eight missed free throws by the Gamecocks.   South Carolina was only fourteen of twenty five from the charity stripe.

But Kentucky would get no closer as Tiffany Mitchell would hit two free throws and off a Wildcats turnover, Olivia Gaines would score on a layup to put the Gamecocks up 63-51. Kentucky would get it back down to eight, but another Coates layup and two more Mitchell free throws put the lead again back up to twelve.   The Gamecocks would eventually win 68-59.

Mitchell led all Gamecocks' scorers with seventeen points.  Welch and Coates each had a double double on the night.  Welch had sixteen points and fourteen rebounds, while Coates had ten points and seventeen rebounds.  Tina Roy added eleven points for South Carolina who outrebounded Kentucky 53-43 and outscored the Wildcats 20-11 on second chance points.

Kentucky also had four players in double figures as Asia Bishop led the Wildcats with a double double, twelve points and eleven rebounds.  Samarie Walker and Janee Thompson each had twelve points and DeNesha Stallworth added eleven points.

With the win, South Carolina moved to 3-0 in conference tied with unranked Florida for first place.  Meanwhile, Kentucky falls to 1-2. Things will not get any easier for either team in conference.  #25 Georgia, which entered SEC play with only one loss,  lost its third straight game to start the conference season at unranked Missouri.   There are no easy games in the SEC, especially with eleven teams with twelve or more wins.

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