The Daily Gamecock

Gamecocks look to sweep ‘Cats

Team has not won a game in Lexington since 2008 season

The last time No. 4 South Carolina squared off against No. 15 Kentucky, it came in a top-10 showdown at Colonial Life Arena that the Gamecocks used to propel into conference play.

South Carolina (23-2, 11-1 SEC) has rallied down the stretch, winning eight of their last nine contests after toppling the Wildcats on Jan. 9. The .315 field goal percentage that Kentucky mustered that night ranks as the second-worst shooting performance for an illustrious offense.

Now, with a conference championship hanging in the balance, the Gamecocks will try to suppress the Wildcats’ scoring on the road Thursday where South Carolina will look to win in Lexington for the first time since the 2007-08 season.

Kentucky comes into the game stout on offense, averaging 84.1 points per game — good enough for 10th best scoring offense in the nation. The Wildcats have breached the 100-point mark six times this season, the most recent coming in a 108-78 maiming of Ole Miss.

The Wildcats (19-6, 7-5 SEC) feature six players on their roster who have scored 200 points or more so far this season, which should test South Carolina’s fourth-best scoring defense.

Jennifer O’Neill leads the team with 336 points so far, including 43 three-pointers, which also leads the team.

Unlike a multitude of teams South Carolina has faced so far this season, Kentucky possesses a handful of players who are six-foot-one or taller. DeNesha Stallworth, Samantha Drake and Azia Bishop each are listed at six-foot-three, with Jelleah Sidney coming in at six-foot-two.

The Gamecocks’ body size has allowed them to outmuscle opponents often this season, mainly in the post. With South Carolina rolling on offense, Kentucky will try to shut down the Gamecocks’ inside game.

“We’re going to play tough. That is what we’re all about,” head coach Dawn Staley said after the Gamecocks’ 68-59 victory earlier this season. “We’re going to make people work for what they want. We just try to take strengths away. We just try to take what Kentucky’s strengths [are], and that’s mainly in transition.”

Freshman Alaina Coates managed a double-double during the last tilt between the two teams with 10 points and 17 rebounds. However, Elem Ibiam only managed nine points and four rebounds.

By the same token, as much emphasis as Kentucky will need to put on South Carolina’s bigs on offense, perhaps the bigger challenge lies with scoring on the Gamecocks’ six-foot-four behemoths.

Ibiam and Coates posted a combined 10 blocks on Kentucky shooters in the game earlier this season. Their physical prowess will be to their advantage Thursday against Jennifer O’Neill — listed at five-foot-six — and Janee Thompson — listed at five-foot-seven.

“I see it as it’s hard to beat a team twice, let alone the first time,” Coates said. “Of course we’re going in there with a little confidence, you know we beat them the first time, but not arrogance. We’re just going in there making sure we do what we did last time even better so we can of course get the win.”

In an increasingly impressive run this season, sophomore Tiffany Mitchell was added to the Naismith Trophy: Women’s Midseason 30, the organization announced.

Mitchell has been the go-to scorer from the outside this season, leading the Gamecocks in points and tied for the team lead in three-pointers with 30.