The No. 1 South Carolina women’s basketball team rode a late offensive surge to a 95-66 victory over Kentucky on the road Thursday night.
Despite allowing its second-highest point total of the season, the Gamecocks’ overpowering offense gave the team all the separation it needed in a rematch of last season’s SEC championship game loss.
"This is the SEC. It's hard to get a road win no matter who you are, no matter what the records are," head coach Dawn Staley said. "They've got some great players, and they played really well."
After both teams exchanged baskets to begin the game, much of the first half was defined by two extended scoring runs. Over a six-minute stretch that began in the first quarter and extended into the second, the Wildcats held the Gamecocks scoreless and turned a 7-point deficit into a 9-point lead. Shortly after that run came to a close, South Carolina started one of its own, scoring 16 of the last 18 points of the half.
"Sometimes you just got to let things just play out. I just wanted to take Kentucky's best punch to see how we would respond to it," Staley said on the decision to not take a timeout during Kentucky's scoring run. "I think the most important thing is not to panic — we've been in that situation before, and we'll just fight and claw our way out of it."
The Gamecocks shot efficiently in the first half, heading into the break with a 57.1% shooting percentage and with two players, senior forward Aliyah Boston and senior guard Zia Cooke, scoring double-digits. However, the Gamecocks were unable to pull away and led by only 4 points at the half after committing eight turnovers and allowing the Wildcats to grab 16 rebounds.
"We know that every team is going to give us their best every time they play us, so we're prepared for that," Cooke said. "We've been down before — the game is full of highs, and it comes to lows at times — so we just continue to keep our pace and do what we do."
The Gamecocks added only 4 points to its lead during the third quarter but put the game away after a dominant display over the final 10 minutes of the game. South Carolina outscored Kentucky 36-15 in the fourth quarter, shooting 13-17 from the floor and maintaining a 10-5 advantage on the boards.
South Carolina also hit 10 of 13 free throws it attempted in the frame, finishing the game 23-29 from the line.
Most of the Gamecocks' offensive production came from Cooke and Boston, who combined to score 41 of the team’s 95 points and contribute 6 assists. Cooke’s 20-point performance, tied for her second-highest scoring display of the season, continued a nine-game run of scoring at least 10 points. Boston recorded a season-high 21 points and her first double-double this season in which she scored 20 or more points.
"I'm super proud of Zia," Staley said. "She probably had one of the worst seasons of her life last year, according to her, and how she played and how she performed, and the one way to get out of that is you just come back ... I think she just really sees it — the game — a lot differently. It slowed down for her, and now she's able to just do all the things that she's been wanting to do from day one."
South Carolina (17-0, 5-0 SEC) will return to Colonial Life Arena to face off against Missouri on Sunday at 1 p.m. The game will air on ESPN.