"It's a good win. It wasn't the prettiest win, but I'd take an ugly win over a pretty loss any day," UK Coach Mickie DeMoss said. "I thought South Carolina made us play ugly at times. I thought their pressure made us a little bit undisciplined on the offensive end but we made shots we had to make. The first half, Sara Potts and Shambrica Jones stepped up big for us on the offensive end, which we badly needed. I thought we defended them well, and forced them into 20 turnovers. I am very pleased right now."
Kentucky (11-15, 3-10 SEC) trailed 9-11 in the opening stanza when Potts went on a scoring spree, netting 11 of the next 13 points for the Cats. UK opened a 25-17 lead and never looked back. Potts and senior Shambrica Jones teamed up to score 27 of UK's 33 first-half points. Potts hit four trifectas in the opening half and connected on 5-of-13 shots from the field for 17 points. Jones netted six of the Cats' first nine points and went into the break with 10. USC committed 13 turnovers in the half and shot only 30.8 percent en route to a 33-19 haftime deficit.
The duo of Potts and Jones helped the Cats keep the hot hand in the second half. UK extended its lead to as much as 16, 52-36, on a Potts jumper with 4:37 left in the game. The Gamecocks continued to battle and pulled within 10, 56-46 after an 8-2 run with 2:51 remaining. The Cats answered with four consecutive points and forced one of USC's 20 turnovers to put the game out of reach. The Cats made 9-of-12 free throws in the final 1:23 to secure the victory. UK made it to the line 33 times in the game compared to USC's 15.
"I thought Kentucky really played a great game," USC Coach Susan Walvius said. "One thing that I've been really impressed with this Kentucky team is the heart that they play with and the confidence that they are playing with this season. They are extremely aggressive and disruptive defensively, they work really hard on the boards and execute their system extremely well. I thought our team played a much smarter second half, but not enough to win."
Four Cats registered double figures on the night. Jones and senior Danyelle Payne both scored 14 while Phillips, who was 10-of-13 from the line, brought in 13 points.
"Potts is a money shooter," Walvius said. "What makes her tough to guard, different than other guards in the league, is that she can shoot the three with somebody in the face and she attacks the rim extremely well. She is also left-handed, which is a little bit different to defend. I thought she played a great game. We didn't play her as smart as we should have. I thought they did a better job on Kelly Morrone than we did on Sara Potts."
UK's stifling defense allowed USC's leading scorer, Kelly Morrone, just three points in the game. Morrone entered the contest averaging a team-high 12.6 points and leading the SEC in three-point field goal shooting. USC, who came into the game shooting 36.2 percent from beyond the arc, managed only 5-of-25 from the three-point line for 20.0 percent. The Cats and Gamecocks ended the battle of the boards in a tie with 37 each.
"We've stressed defense all year," DeMoss said. "You've got to play defense and you've got to rebound in order to have a chance to win and that's something we've engrained in them all year. This team is starting to develop a lot of pride in their defense. At the beginning of the year, I'm not sure that really mattered to them but they've developed a lot of pride on the defensive end and when your offense goes stale you can still win a game."
The Gamecocks (10-16, 2-12) were led by Iva Sliskovic's 15 points and eight rebounds. Lauren Simms and Stacy Booker scored 14 and 13 points, respectively. The win is the second over USC this season and gives UK a 19-13 advantage over the Gamecocks in the overall series.
Potts has charted 993 career points and needs just seven more to become the 24th member of UK's 1,000-point club.
The Cats end the regular season on Sunday, Feb. 29 with a match-up against No. 19/15 Georgia at 2:30 p.m. ET at Stegeman Coliseum in Athens, Ga. UK looks to avenge a 74-53 loss to UGA earlier this season in Lexington, 74-53.