Kentucky Women’s Basketball didn’t get their fairytale ending against the top team in the nation.
On Thursday night, the Wildcats (9-11) fell 59-50 to the No. 1 South Carolina Gamecocks (22-1). This is Kentucky’s second loss to the Gamecocks this season; the first being a 74-54 defeat on Jan. 9. Kentucky’s loss drops them to 2-8 in conference play. Moreover, the ‘Cats didn’t have any excuses this time around.
For the first time since Jan. 16 against Tennessee, Kentucky Women’s Basketball had nine healthy players. Robyn Benton returned after missing five straight games due to an ankle injury. Similarly, Jada Walker remained in the starting lineup despite suffering an injury in the third quarter against Texas A&M.
While UK had an entire squad, South Carolina couldn’t say the same. The Gamecocks were without 6-foot-4 Laeticia Amihere and 6-foot-7 Kamilla Cardoso, who average a combined 13.7 points and 9.7 boards per contest. The pair was absent as they competed in their respective country’s FIBA World Cup Qualifying Rounds.
Kentucky shot 19-53 (36%) from the field and 4-14 (26%) from beyond the arc against SC. The ‘Cats have only shot above 45% from the field once over its past nine games. As usual, Rhyne Howard led Kentucky with 21 points and nine rebounds. The 6-foot-2 guard only committed two turnovers in 35 minutes of play.
At the end of the day, Howard’s stellar performance wasn’t enough to summit South Carolina.
Rebounding issues early for Kentucky WBB
Even without two of their best bigs, South Carolina’s height showed up early. In the first period, the Gamecocks grabbed every offensive rebound in sight. The team snagged eight offensive boards in the frame, compared to Kentucky’s mere two.
During the postgame press conference, head coach Kyra Elzy spoke about the team’s rebounding problems.
“It’s very frustrating,” Elzy said. “We need to get a box out so we can run in transition.”
Kentucky’s offense struggled to find an early rhythm. Dre’Una Edwards scored UK’s first points after nearly four minutes of play. Kentucky’s ball control wasn’t doing them any favors, either. UK committed three turnovers in a row, allowing South Carolina to rattle off six unanswered points.
After finding a pair of layups, Kentucky dragged into the second frame down 16-8.
Scoring drought strikes South Carolina
The second frame was a coin with two extremely different sides. The Gamecocks began the period on a 6-0 run. Nonetheless, they quickly cooled down.
Kentucky scored their first points of the period with just five minutes remaining in the half and never looked back. The ‘Cats went on a 9-0 run while holding the Gamecocks scoreless for nearly seven minutes. Superstar Aliyah Boston ended the Gamecocks’ drought with an and-one bucket right before the half.
Boston’s paint points were nothing new for South Carolina. In fact, all 26 of South Carolina’s first-half points were scored in the lane. Despite playing stellar defense in the second frame, Kentucky went into the break trailing the Gamecocks 26-17.
Rhyne Howard nowhere to be found in the third
Any momentum Kentucky built in the second period was gone after the break. Perhaps nobody was off more than Rhyne Howard. Kentucky’s All-American guard wore a mysterious hand wrap that seemingly affected her performance. In the third period, Howard didn’t have a field goal attempt.
Howard clarified the injury after the game, letting the media know it was a right thumb strain. Moreover, Howard discussed how the injury affected her throughout the contest.
“It definitely affected me. It was throbbing the whole game. I was hoping the adrenaline would kick in,” Howard said. “It was kind of hard to catch the ball or even dribble.”
Olivia Owens led the ‘Cats in the third frame with five points on 2-2 shooting. While Owens was solid on offense, Boston dominated on the other end. Boston dropped five points and another five rebounds in the third quarter. Fueled by her effort, South Carolina ran off a 9-2 run.
Accordingly, the Gamecocks strolled into the final frame comfortably ahead 42-26.
Chaotic finish for Kentucky WBB
South Carolina wouldn’t remain comfortable for long. Kentucky refused to lay down on their home court as the Gamecocks were in for an exhausting final frame.
The ‘Cats switched to a full-court press, which gave the Gamecocks fits. South Carolina had six turnovers in the fourth period alone. When Kentucky fouled the SC, things were even uglier. South Carolina shot a poor 9-22 from the charity stripe in the quarter.
Kentucky’s offense had suddenly come to life, as well. The ‘Cats scored 24 points in the final period compared to 26 points throughout the rest of the game. Howard was the jolt to Kentucky’s system. The reigning SEC Player of the Year scored 16 points in the final 10 minutes of the game.
Although Kentucky’s last stand was admirable, it was not successful. In the end, the Gamecocks defeated UK 59-50. South Carolina grabbed twice as many offensive rebounds as the ‘Cats. Additionally, the Gamecocks finished with 46 paint points while UK had just 26.
Kentucky didn’t have a single player other than Howard score in double figures. Owens was Kentucky’s second-leading scorer with seven points on 3-6 shooting. Freshman Jada Walker added six points and seven boards but turned the ball over five times.
Kentucky will have three days to recompose themselves before their next contest. The Wildcats are set to face Alabama on Feb. 13 at 2 p.m. in Coleman Coliseum. The game will be broadcast on the SEC Network.