LEXINGTON, Ky. (South Carolina SID) – No. 4/6 South Carolina shot 60.0 percent in the second half and out-rebounded No. 15/15 Kentucky 44-19 to post an 81-58 win over the Wildcats Thursday night at Memorial Coliseum. Junior forward Aleighsa Welch dominated from the opening tip, finishing with 21 points – including the 1,000th of her career – 10 rebounds and five blocked shots. Three other Gamecocks (24-12, 12-1 SEC) scored in double figures as South Carolina won its school-record 12 SEC game of the season.
Welch wasted little time claiming her 1,000th career point, scoring six of the Gamecocks' first nine points of the game to cross the threshhold as the Wildcats did not have an answer for her throughout the half. After South Carolina led early in the half, Kentucky took an 11-8 lead on a Bria Goss drive to the rim with 13:32 to go in the period. Khadijah Sessions quickly turned things back in the Gamecocks' favor with a short jumper followed by a steal, layup and free throw to make it a 14-11 South Carolina lead. Alaina Coates capped the run with a bucket from the left block off a baseline out-of-bounds play.
The Wildcats hovered around a three-point deficit until the 6:28 mark when Asia Dozier delivered a perfect pass for a bucket from Coates to launch an 8-0 run that saw five different Gamecocks score. After a UK turnover, Dozier hit a floater in the lane. Olivia Gaines skied for one of her three defensive boards in the half to get South Carolina back on offense. Sessions converted a pair of free throws to set up another defensive stop with a shot-clock violation. Welch hit a runner, and Coates closed the surged hitting both ends of a 1-and-1 opportunity to give the Gamecocks a 34-21 lead with 3:25 to go in the period. The Wildcats closed the half strong, but South Carolina took a 36-28 lead into the locker room.
The second half started with a 7-0 run by the Gamecocks, bookended by a pair of inside buckets from Elem Ibiam and including solid defensive rebounding. The Wildcats got their first basket of the half nearly three minutes in, but the Gamecocks were not slowing down. Welch and Ibiam added four more points with a block from Welch in between that illustrated the forward's strength. Chasing down Jelleah Sidney after a steal, Welch met the ball at the apex of Sidney's layup attempt then just cuffed it to put the Gamecocks back on offense.
The Wildcats went inside for a bucket from Samarie Walker, but it was all they would get before Sessions drained a 3 from the left corner and Mitchel converted a traditional three-point play after a tough bucket in traffic for a 53-32 South Carolina lead with 15:09 to play. Kentucky found its way defensively and looked to make a run, chipping away at the Gamecocks' lead. Makayla Epps got her team within 11 at 59-48 with four straight points with 9:26 to play, but the Gamecock defense would not allow the Wildcats to make any more headway despite a nearly four-minute scoring drought.
Quiet in the scoring column for much of the night thanks to foul trouble, Tiffany Mitchell snapped the Gamecocks' offensive woes, hitting both ends of a 1-and-1 and following a Welch defensive rebound with a 3-pointer at the end of the shot clock. The defense kept the Wildcats off the board on the other side, and Sessions hit her third 3 of the night to seal the run and put the Gamecocks up 67-48 with 6:20 to play. Kentucky continued to battle, but the Gamecocks had the answer each time to deliver head coach Dawn Staley's first South Carolina win in Lexington.
Sessions finished one point shy of her career high with 18 against the Wildcats, including a career-best three 3-pointers. Ibiam scored 10 in the second half to close the game with 16 points, and Mitchell rounded out the quartet with 12 – all in the second half. Eight of the 11 Gamecocks who entered the game recorded at least one rebound, and South Carolina shot 52.6 percent from the field for the game.
The Gamecocks will play just two more games at Colonial Life Arena this season, beginning on Sun., Feb. 23, at 1 p.m. against Florida. For "Think Pink," fans will get a pink rally towel, while supplies last, and breast cancer survivors and fighters will be recognized throughout the game. South Carolina is also celebrating National Girls and Women in Sports Day with various women's teams and local businesses sponsoring booths around the concourse with giveaways and information promoting healthy living. Doors will open at 11:30 a.m.
No. 4 Gamecocks pop Kentucky, 81-58
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