LEXINGTON, Ky. (AP) Any question about fourth-ranked South Carolina’s ability to move forward from an upset loss was answered by halftime against No. 25 Kentucky.
The Gamecocks’ post tandem of Alaina Coates and A’ja Wilson made sure of that by controlling the lane on both ends of the court.
Coates had 20 points and a season-high 18 rebounds, and South Carolina used an 18-point run in the second quarter to pull away from Kentucky for a 75-63 victory Thursday night.
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”We were pushing the ball. We didn’t rely on just our half-court offense,” Gamecocks coach Dawn Staley said. ”We turned them over a little bit and pushed the ball down the floor, got some easy buckets. We kind of took the page out of their book.”
Wilson also scored 20 for South Carolina. Eager to rebound from Monday’s 76-74 defeat at home against Tennessee, the Gamecocks succeeded by holding the Wildcats without a field goal for the final 6:41 of the second and outscoring them 22-8 for a 42-23 halftime lead.
”The first half, we just played with a lot of energy,” Wilson said. ”I just feel like we picked ourselves up, and that’s something we do a really good job of because Coach kind of makes us turn the page no matter what.”
South Carolina led by 27 in the third quarter before Kentucky regrouped to get within 11 by the final minute, but the Gamecocks had things settled by that point.
Coates matched her career high on the boards and Wilson grabbed nine rebounds as South Carolina (19-2, 9-1 Southeastern Conference) beat Kentucky for the fourth straight time.
Allisha Gray added eight of her 11 points in the second quarter for the Gamecocks, who shot 50 percent and outscored Kentucky 34-20 in the paint. The junior guard also had five rebounds, three steals and was effective in containing Makayla Epps, whose 23 points led Kentucky (15-8, 6-4).
”I was just playing defense hard and sticking to my assignment of trying to let her score the least possible while I was guarding her,” Gray said.
Maci Morris had 14 points and Evelyn Akhator 10 for the Wildcats, who shot 34 percent and lost their second straight. Epps received medical treatment afterward and wasn’t available to reporters, and Kentucky coach Matthew Mitchell didn’t have any immediate information.
THE BIG PICTURE
South Carolina: Other than a third-quarter technical for wildly striking Kentucky’s Evelyn Akhator after making a layup, fouls weren’t an issue for the 6-foot-4 Coates or 6-5 Wilson as they made life tough for the Wildcats on both ends by shooting a combined 16 of 23. But it was Gray’s eight points in the second that provided the boost that helped the Gamecocks break open the game by halftime.
Kentucky: The Wildcats stayed close for one quarter before going cold in a 2-for-15 second that included five turnovers that led to easy Gamecocks baskets. Rebounding already figured to be difficult against South Carolina’s tall tandem, and that was reflected in a 40-29 deficit on the glass.
”Coates and Wilson are just so tough at the rim,” Mitchell said. ”It’s hard if you’re not making some shots, it can snowball pretty quick because it’s so hard to get to the rim. So, you give them credit and they’re a tough team.”
South Carolina bounced back from the Tennessee loss with a dominant road win that should keep the Gamecocks in the top five. Kentucky’s return to the Top 25 should be brief after its second consecutive loss.
South Carolina: The Gamecocks visit Arkansas on Sunday.
Kentucky: Hosts Vanderbilt on Sunday in an attempt to end its second two-game slide of the season.
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