The Wildcats (14-8, 3-4 Southeastern Conference) matched last season's conference win total with their third league victory and their 14 overall wins are the most since the 1999-00 season when UK finished 15-14.
"It was a much needed win for us," UK Coach Mickie DeMoss said. "We needed a win and it always helps our confidence and gets us back believing we can win. For the most part, I thought we played hard. We made a few mistakes down the stretch but we were able to regroup and recover and secure the win. I'm real proud of our overall performance tonight and I'm glad that we were able to come out with a victory."
Phillips sparked the Cats, nailing 3-of-4 shots from three-point range and tying a season-high with three steals and four rebounds. Guards Nastassia Alcius and Chante' Bowman each added six points for the Wildcats.
"That kid (Phillips) never ceases to amaze me," DeMoss said. "I thought she really stepped up big when we needed a basket. She had some steals against their break. She had four rebounds, two offensive rebounds but that's just such a mark of a winner and a point guard that just refuses to let this team lose. At 5-3 and 110 lbs., she's got the heart the size of Lexington."
The teams battled evenly for the first 10 minutes of the game and the Gamecocks (6-15, 0-7 SEC) were able to take a 14-10 advantage with 10:33 left until halftime. The Wildcats regrouped and used a three-pointer by Potts and a jumper by Elliott to spark a 5-0 run, giving UK a 15-14 advantage with 8:24 to go. With the narrow lead, the Cats used a tenacious inside presence from the tandem of Elliott and Keiko Tate to score the team's next five baskets. UK extended its lead to five (23-17) with 2:55 left and never looked back. Phillips hit a three-pointer from the right wing to spark the Cats' run, bringing the crowd of 5,991 to its feet with 57.5 seconds remaining in the half. A lay-up by Tate with eight seconds left sent UK into halftime with a 30-17 advantage.
"Kentucky is tough at home," USC Coach Susan Walvius said. "They are obviously an improved basketball team. This crowd was absolutely fantastic. Being a part of the SEC for several years, our players know – especially when you have young players – the emotion fans can bring to the facility. It can be disheartening on the other side. I saw the fans take a toll on our team today with the energy in here and the crowd support."
The Wildcats shot 40.6 percent (13-of-32) from the field in the opening half and out-rebounded the Gamecocks 24-16. South Carolina managed to connect on only 25 percent (7-of-28) of their shots from the floor. Elliott had 10 points to lead the Wildcats in the opening stanza and Mahoney had seven rebounds.
Out of halftime, UK continued adding to its lead, pushing the advantage to 16 (35-19) with 17:10 to go on a resounding thee-pointer by Phillips. A three-point play by Alcius and a jumper by Potts gave UK its largest lead of 21 points (54-33) with 8:21 remaining. The Gamecocks trimmed the Kentucky edge to 11 (60-49) with 1:35 left, but the Cats made six-of-eight free-throws down the stretch to ice the victory.
"You have to really give Mickie (DeMoss) a lot of credit," Walvius said. "She's really developing their interior game. They do a nice job feeding inside. Because they have all the ingredients – they handle the ball, solid play from the point guard position, perimeter shooting and passing and now they have developed some confidence in their inside play – it makes them a tough well-balanced team."
Iva Sliskovic scored 13 points to lead the Gamecocks while Lauren Simms had 12 points and a team-high six rebounds.
The Cats out-rebounded the Gamecocks 47-35 and have now tied or out-rebounded their opponents in 12 of the last 15 games. UK shot just 39.7 percent (25-of-63) from the floor and 68.8 percent (11-of-16) from the free-throw line. UK was able to hold South Carolina to 29.3 percent shooting (17-of-58), including a 20.0 percent clip (3-of-15) from beyond the arc.
Kentucky returns to action Sunday, Feb. 6, when it travels to Athens, Ga., for a rematch with the Georgia Lady Bulldogs. Tip off is set for 2:30 p.m. ET in Stegeman Coliseum. UK defeated then-No. 18 Georgia earlier this season in Rupp Arena. The game will be carried live on WLXG 1300 AM with Chris Cross.