[caption id="attachment_278670" align="aligncenter" width="600"] (UK Athletics)
Just a few minutes into Kentucky's SEC opener, the Wildcats were facing its biggest challenge of the entire season.
UK had never trailed by more than six points all season before Thursday night. Only the Louisville Cardinals managed to hold a lead of that size on the 'Cats. Not even four minutes into the game agaisnt the No. 4 South Carolina Gamecocks, Kentucky was already down seven points.
Then 12 points. Then 24 points. Then 31 points, before falling by a final score of 99-72. It was the first time that the Wildcats had faced adversity all season and they let it smack them right in the face without even throwing a retaliation punch. In the second half, UK never trimmed the USC lead to under 18 points.
Star sophomore Rhyne Howard
still got hers, though. The guard continued her impressive scoring streak, dropping 28 points on 8-17 shooting, 4-8 from beyond the arc, and 8-11 from the free-throw line. Howard also added six rebounds, two assists, one steal, and one block, but turned the ball over six times.
Junior Chasity Patterson
poured in 15 points during her second game in a Kentucky jersey while senior Amanda Paschal
followed closely behind with 13 points of her own. But that's about as cheery as I can get for the rest of this recap. South Carolina beat the absolute brakes off Kentucky.
Less than four minutes into the game, Kentucky already trailed 11-2 and South Carolina was pressuring every Wildcat ball-handler, abusing the significant advantage in length that the Gamecocks possessed.
Kentucky turned the ball over six times in the opening minutes and finished the first quarter with eight total miscues. The Wildcats averaged roughly 12 turnovers per game coming into SEC play but were not used to the physical approach from a true powerhouse team.
While the 'Cats actually came out of the gate doing an excellent job on the offensive glass - hauling in seven first-quarter offensive rebounds - they couldn't do anything to prevent the Gamecocks from working for any shot they wanted in the paint.
Kentucky shot just 4-16 from the field in the first quarter compared to 10-15 for USC. After the first 10 minutes, the 'Cats were being doubled up, 24-12.
The second quarter opened up with an and-one opportunity for Howard, however, it would be the lone bright spot of the period. South Carolina outscored Kentucky again, this time 26-15, shooting 10-17 from the floor. 38 of USC's 49 points in the first half were inside the paint. Before we could even hit halftime, Carolina had already surpassed Kentucky's season average in points allowed (48.6) with 49.
Luckily, the first 20 minutes of action did give fans a chance to witness the immediate impact of Patterson, who has quickly shown that she should command the starting role, especially against premier talent. No disrespect meant to Jaida Roper
or Paschal, but they can't handle the ball as Patterson can when being defended by much bigger opponents. She was driving to the rim and knocking down some outside looks. You could make a case that she's the 'Cats second best scorer already.
Howard and Patterson combined for 21 of the Wildcats 29 first-half points but Kentucky trailed 49-28 at the intermission.
Kentucky's best scoring quarter came in the third, but so did South Carolina's. USC outscored UK 30-24 in that period, maintaining a 18-22 point lead throughout the entirety of the 10 minutes. At one point, the Wildcats had made five of six field goals, but couldn't do anything to stop the size of 6-foot-5 Aliyah Boston inside.
The fourth quarter would see the lead balloon to as many as 31 points before South Carolina settled with a 27-point win.
The Gamecocks outrebounded the Wildcats on the offensive glass 17-11 (which they converted into 25 second-chance points) and won the overall rebounding battle, 40-20. Carolina's 60 paint points were easily the most allowed by Kentucky all season, as USC didn't even need to attempt outside shots to extend the lead. Carolina shot just six threes on the night, making only one of them.
Boston finished with 14 points and six rebounds while Brea Beal and Zia Cooke both added 15 points apiece. Two other Gamecocks finished in double-figures, as well, and the team shot 61 percent from the field as a whole. Kentucky hadn't allowed a team to hit more than 67 points through the first 12 games before USC nearly broke triple-digits.
The loss equates to a massive wake up call for Kentucky, who waltzed through an easy non-conference schedule before putting up an excellent effort in a one-point loss to Louisville. That narrow loss to the Cards was filled with optimism and Howard's game-winner agaisnt Cal the next game only furthered the belief that Kentucky could be in for a special season. But all of that was vanquished with one 40-minute game of hoops.
Kentucky's next game is in Memorial Coliseum against the No. 22 Tennessee Volunteers on Sunday at 4 p.m. on ESPN2.