The Daily Gamecock

Women's basketball falls to No. 9 Kentucky

Poor free throw shooting, turnovers doom Gamecocks

Kentucky's women's basketball coach Matthew Mitchell had nothing but praise for South Carolina on Sunday.

"Carolina is a really good, tough defensive team, and so well coached, and that's the main reason I'm so proud of my team," Mitchell said. "[USC's] defense was so outstanding, and they really do some things to confuse you, so if you don't play really aggressive and decisive they can keep you going side to side and burning the clock."

Mitchell was in a position to offer praise, as his team rallied from a nine-point second half deficit, making a defensive switch that threw the Gamecocks off enough to allow No. 9 Kentucky to come back and secure a 66-58 win.

"We showed them a zone look, a real pressure zone look," Mitchell said. "They have such great guards and every time we play them, (USC coach Dawn) Staley does such a great job with the game plan and they really spread us out ... We went to zone pressure just to slow [the game] down a little bit ... Fortunately we got a couple stops."

Kentucky's zone defense may have thrown Carolina off balance, but it wasn't the only thing that put them at a disadvantage. The team struggled to make free throws throughout the game, especially in the second half, where it made only 6-of-15, and was weakened by the 29 turnovers forced by the Wildcats, who have forced more than 20 turnovers in 16 of 17 games this season.

This combination of turnovers and missed free throws cost Carolina the game, according to Staley.

"Turnovers killed us," Staley said. "Anytime we were in a position where we had them at half court, our defense held up. Anytime we gave them uncontested shots because of our turnovers, it hurt us. They have 30 points of their 66 points from turnovers. Free throws and turnovers killed us ... [Free throws] have been our nemesis all year long. The people who normally hit them, didn't hit them. For Ashley (Bruner) it's a different story. She struggled at the charity stripe for quite some time. We've been playing with her and working on her mechanics so hopefully she can up her percentage."

Bruner, who has averaged 5.6 rebounds per game, had her first start of the season against the Wildcats, in place of senior Courtney Newton, scoring eight points but going only 1-for-7 from the free throw line.

Bruner and the other starters got off to a slow start in the first half, prompting Staley to turn to freshman forward Aleighsa Welch, who made back-to-back baskets to close the UK lead to 14-10 with less than 11 minutes to play. It was a big enough spark to create momentum and push Carolina into the first lead of the game at 20-18. The Wildcats had a two-point lead seconds before halftime, but junior Sancehon White made a 3-pointer in the final seconds to take a 29-28 lead into halftime. Welch finished with 11 points for the Gamecocks.

With Kentucky leading the nation in turnover margin and South Carolina being one of the top scoring defensive squads in the country, the play was aggressive on both ends throughout the game.

"They're quick and active and strong as well," said junior Ieasia Walker, who finished with a team-high 14 points. "It was one of the most physical games."
Despite back-to-back losses to LSU and Kentucky, the Gamecocks are ready to move on to the next opponent.

"It's disappointing but it's nothing we're going to hang our heads on," said senior La'Keisha Sutton. "We get over our wins and losses in 24 hours, so we're going to move on to the next game."