24-2, 12-1 conf
19-7, 7-6 conf

No. 4 S. Carolina dumps No. 15 Kentucky to set school wins mark

LEXINGTON, Ky. -- Besides finding open paths to the basket, South Carolina answered Kentucky's zone with perimeter shots that turned a rematch into a walkover.

Those opportunities were produced by dominant rebounding, one of many other areas the Gamecocks owned in a record-setting victory.

Aleighsa Welch led the effort with 21 points, 10 rebounds and five blocks, and Khadijah Sessions added three shots from behind the arc for 18 points as No. 4 South Carolina routed No. 15 Kentucky 81-58 on Thursday night to set a school mark 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 to stay in first place.

"That's one thing that we really had to do, box out and secure rebounds," the 6-foot-4 Ibiam said. "We did a great job taking our defensive assignments, boxing out when the shots went up. We communicated, we were able to secure rebounds and get out in transition.

"I don't think we really noticed in the heat of the game, the rebounding margin. I think it just pays off for us working hard in practice."

And how. Along with outscoring the Wildcats 38-26 in the paint, the Gamecocks finished with a 12-4 advantage in second-chance points and scored 13 off nine Kentucky turnovers.

South Carolina posted its second straight win over a ranked opponent on the road. 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).

"We watched film on the previous game so we knew what defensive adjustments we had to make," said Welch, who made 10 of 16 shots from the field. "It was a total team effort, and those adjustments paid off."

Tiffany Mitchell had 12 points and seven rebounds for South Carolina, which took control with a 17-4 run after halftime for a 53-32 lead.

Kentucky's only bright spot was outscoring South Carolina's reserves 30-10 thanks to Makayla Epps, who netted 16 points. Jennifer O'Neill came off the bench to add 12 for the Wildcats, whose two-game winning streak was snapped.

"We ran into a really, really tough opponent that's really talented and plays real hard," Wildcats coach Matthew Mitchell said. "They were tough defensively, tough offensively and really active on the boards. We got whipped."

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. Their most obvious failings were on defense, which the Gamecocks exploited whether Kentucky played man-to-man or zone.

The Wildcats certainly weren't able to break the Gamecocks' steely poise that has earned three road wins during their streak, 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. Ibiam and 6-4 Alaina Coates (eight points) combined to nearly outrebound Kentucky by themselves (11-10) as the Gamecocks grabbed 24 in the half.

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 lead to 19 on back-to-back 3-pointers by Mitchell and Sessions and cruised from there.

"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."