LEXINGTON (AP) — No. 9 Kentucky gave second-ranked South Carolina a scare before the Gamecocks used a big second half to pull away for a 73-62 victory Thursday night.
Kentucky (13-2, 2-2 Southeastern Conference) controlled the first half and led by 11 in the second quarter, but the Gamecocks (16-0, 4-0) outscored the Wildcats 45-30 in the second half.
“We punched them in the mouth early and could tell it caught them off guard,” Kentucky guard Makayla Epps said. “(It was) hard score (in the) second half, I would say they adjusted really well.”
Kentucky struggled to stop South Carolina’s A’Ja Wilson who had 26 points, 13 rebounds and a season-high eight blocks for the Gamecocks. Led by Wilson, South Carolina outscored Kentucky 38-34 in the post and outrebounded the Wildcats 44-43.
“South Carolina played real tough in the second half,” Kentucky coach Matthew Mitchell said. “We just had a hard time with A’ja Wilson. She was really tough. I thought foul trouble really bothered us. They were able to play their starting frontcourt and we weren’t. That affected our ability to guard them.”
South Carolina scored a season-low 28 points in the first half, then outscored Kentucky 45-30 in the final two quarters. They pulled away with an 18-8 run.
“It was very frustrating,” Kentucky guard Janee Thompson said. “What we did on defense, we lost focus from post position and guard position. We also stopped boxing out. (I was) disappointed at the way we guarded the basketball.”
Thompson and Epps had 16 points each for the Wildcats. They lost for the first time at home this season.
Tiffany Mitchell added 16 points, and Tina Roy had 12 for the Gamecocks, but it was Wilson who carried the load, especially in the second half. Wilson finished two points shy of matching her career scoring high.
“My teammates saw what the defense was giving me and I saw what it was giving me,” Wilson said. “That’s just the system.”
South Carolina coach Dawn Staley said Wilson’s performance was “pretty special.”
“A lot of times you see close to triple doubles in blowouts but when you get it in a game of this magnitude it just shows how special A’ja Wilson is,” Staley said. “She did a magnificent job making adjustments from first half to second half.”
Kentucky led 11-3 and held the Gamecocks to a season-low eight points in the first quarter.
South Carolina rallied from a 30-19 deficit and used an 11-2 run to close the gap to 32-28 at the break. Wilson scored six points during the spurt and had 11 points in the first half.
South Carolina took its first lead at 49-48 on Mitchell’s 3-pointer with 1:18 left in the third quarter.
South Carolina beat its first three conference opponents by an average of 29 points and became the first team to score more than 67 points against the Wildcats this season.
Kentucky had won 10 of the last 12 games played at home between the two conference foes, but failed to win for a second straight time over the Gamecocks at home.
For the first time in six games, Kentucky center Evelyn Okhator failed to score double figures. Okhator, who had a double-double in Kentucky’s first three conference games, was held to six points.
South Carolina: The Gamecocks are six wins way from tying a school for most consecutive victories (22) in a season. … South Carolina, Connecticut (14-0) and Texas (15-0) are the only remaining undefeated teams in the nation.
Kentucky: The Wildcats suffered their first loss to a ranked opponent this season and are 2-1 against Top 25 teams. … Morris has made a 3-pointer in three straight games.
South Carolina: Hosts No. 15 Texas A&M on Sunday.
Kentucky: Hosts Auburn on Sunday.