The Daily Gamecock

Analysis: No. 1 South Carolina women's basketball coasts to dominant victory against Kentucky

<p>Freshman guard MiLaysia Fulwiley drives the ball against the Kentucky defense on Jan. 15, 2024 at Colonial Life Arena. Fulwiley contributed 14 points to the Gamecocks 98-36 victory against the Wildcats.</p>
Freshman guard MiLaysia Fulwiley drives the ball against the Kentucky defense on Jan. 15, 2024 at Colonial Life Arena. Fulwiley contributed 14 points to the Gamecocks 98-36 victory against the Wildcats.

The South Carolina women’s basketball team continued its undefeated start to the season on Monday night, cruising to a 98-36 victory over Kentucky at Colonial Life Arena. 

South Carolina was anchored by its star senior center Kamilla Cardoso, who finished with 12 points, 11 rebounds and five blocks. Cardoso, a member of the Wooden Midseason Top 25 Watch List, recorded her ninth double-double of the season, now tied for fourth in the SEC with LSU's junior forward Angel Reese in the category. 

The first quarter was a fairly tight contest, which finished 17-13 in favor of the Gamecocks. The opening ten minutes of the game featured an emphatic fast-break dunk from sophomore forward Ashlyn Watkins that electrified Colonial Life Arena, giving the Gamecocks plenty of momentum. 

I don’t really think about when I’m going to do it. ... I just do it," Watkins said. “I got the steal and was like, ‘Why not try it?’”

South Carolina would pull away after the first quarter, outscoring Kentucky 29-8 in the second period. The Gamecocks' large advantage stemmed from a 14-0 run to begin the quarter, which also included a 7-0 personal run by freshman guard MiLaysia Fulwiley.

Freshman guard Tessa Johnson also got involved late in the first half, going 3-3 from behind the arc for nine second-quarter points. Johnson would finish the game with 11 points. 

The Gamecocks never looked back in the second half, eventually winning by 62 points. South Carolina was paced by Fulwiley and senior guard Te-Hina Paopao, who each scored 14 points on the game.

Paopao, the nation’s leader in three-point shooting at 57.5%, hit two shots from distance to go along with three rebounds and five assists in 25 minutes. 

South Carolina's offense was firing on all cylinders across all four quarters, as the team finished just two points shy of their seventh 100-point game of the season. The Gamecocks spread around its scoring — six players scored in double figures, and 45 points were scored off the bench — and established a strong presence in the paint, scoring 54 of its 98 points there. 

They are connected. They have great chemistry. They work hard in practice,” head coach Dawn Staley said. “They have a really good understanding of what needs to happen out there on the floor and how disciplined we need to be in order to share in these successes.”

As much of an offensive display the Gamecocks put on, the defense was equally impactful. South Carolina won the rebounding battle 45-31, recorded eight blocks and forced 24 turnovers on the Wildcats, scoring 34 points off those turnovers. 

South Carolina held two of Kentucky’s typical double-digit scorers — senior forward Ajae Petty and senior guard Maddie Scherr — to just 11 points combined on 4-24 shooting. The Gamecocks' defense was especially stifling for Petty, who was held to just two points and five rebounds despite averaging a double-double throughout the season.

“Obviously she has big game capability, and we just wanted to limit her production, make it hard for her, throw a lot of bodies at her,” Staley said. “I thought they did a really good job at taking away her space, her ability to be athletic and quick and create mismatches with her quickness.”

The Gamecocks (16-0, 4-0 SEC) will return to action Sunday on the road at Texas A&M (14-3, 2-2 SEC) at 5 p.m. The game will be broadcast on the SEC Network.