Welch lifts USC over Kentucky
LEXINGTON, Ky. - Former Goose Creek High School star Aleighsa Welch had 21 points and 10 rebounds, and Khadijah Sessions added 18 points as No. 4 South Carolina routed No. 15 Kentucky 81-58 on Thursday night to set a school record for regular season victories.
Elem Ibiam added 16 points for the Gamecocks (24-2, 12-1 SEC), who cruised to their milestone win behind 60 percent second-half shooting and 53 percent overall. They also dominated the boards 44-19 and won their eighth straight and stayed in first place.
South Carolina posted its second straight win over a ranked opponent on the road.
"We watched film on the previous game so we knew what defensive adjustments we had to make," said Welch, who made 10 of 16 from the field. "It was a total team effort, and those adjustments paid off."
The Gamecocks also ended a nine-game losing streak at Memorial Coliseum in sweeping the season series from Kentucky (19-7, 7-6), which shot 23 of 61 from the field (38 percent).
Tiffany Mitchell scored 12 points for South Carolina, which took control with a 17-4 run after halftime for a 53-32 lead.
"We pretty much gave Kentucky a taste of its own medicine," South Carolina coach Dawn Staley said. "We pushed the ball and (got) the ball into the paint. Sometimes when that's your strength, that's also your weakness. We wanted to make sure we were equally as aggressive, getting the ball into the paint, whether through our post players or through penetration."
Makayla Epps came off the bench and scored 16 points. Jennifer O'Neill added 12 for the Wildcats, whose two-game winning streak was snapped.
Kentucky had wanted to prove its 31-percent shooting performance in the previous meeting at South Carolina was a fluke, but the Wildcats shot just slightly better in the rematch. They had to overcome South Carolina's tall, tough defense that came in holding opponents to 34 percent shooting per game and averaged seven blocks, both league bests.
Defensively, Kentucky's challenge was containing the nation's fifth-best shooting offense (48.7 percent), that included the 6-4 tandem of Elem Ibiam and Alaina Coates, which has worn opponents. On top of that, the Wildcats had to break the Gamecocks' steely poise that has earned three road wins, including at No. 19 LSU on Sunday.
South Carolina kept Kentucky from achieving any of those objectives by utilizing its strengths for a 36-28 lead at halftime.
Sessions and Welch each scored 10 points to set the tone for the Gamecocks' fast-paced approach that the Wildcats struggled to keep up with. That soon opened up the inside for Ibiam and Coates to each score six points and combine to nearly outrebound Kentucky by themselves (11-10).
South Carolina's big run over the first 4:51 of the second half, capped by Mitchell's three-point play, provided the biggest lead at 53-32 before Kentucky got within 59-48 on six straight points by Epps.
The Gamecocks soon stretched the advantage back to a 19-point lead on back-to-back 3-pointers by Mitchell and Sessions and cruised to their record-setting win.