LEXINGTON, Ky. – After starting league play with two of its first three games on the road, the No. 9 University of Kentucky women’s basketball team begins a stretch of four of its next five games at home when it plays host to No. 2 South Carolina on Thursday, Jan. 14 at 7 p.m. ET inside Memorial Coliseum.
The game will be televised nationally on SEC Network with Paul Sunderland, Carolyn Peck and Steffi Sorensen calling the action.
“Well, we renew our rivalry with South Carolina on Thursday,” UK coach Matthew Mitchell said at his weekly news conference. “They are our rival that we get twice each and every year. It’s a great test for our team always. We have a lot of respect for them and how talented and hard they play.
"Our team will have to prepare well and really play with a lot of ferocity tomorrow night. A lot of heart. We’ll have to execute well and we’ll just have to give a great, great effort. And that’s what our M.O. needs to be, and that’s how we’ll be successful against this team in tomorrow night’s game and any game that we play. So it’s a really great opportunity for us to go out and compete against a really fine South Carolina team.”
Kentucky (13-1) started conference play with a setback at Auburn, but has responded since with a home win over Alabama and a key road win at Georgia. The Wildcats took down the Crimson Tide last Thursday in Lexington, 73-48, before defeating UGA, 64-53, for UK’s first win in Athens since 2012.
Sophomore forward Alexis Jennings has been a star the first three conference games for Kentucky, averaging 11.3 points and 11.0 rebounds per game in league action. Jennings is the first player in the Matthew Mitchell Era to record three straight double-doubles to start conference play. Fellow post player Evelyn Akhator (pictured) had a double-double against Georgia, scoring 10 points with 10 rebounds and is averaging 12.5 points and 10.3 rebounds per game this season.
Junior guard Makayla Epps is the leader in scoring for Kentucky, averaging 16.1 points per game behind 5.2 rebounds and 5.6 assists per game. Senior Janee Thompson is averaging 12.8 points per game and 5.5 assists per game.
Kentucky continued its school-record streak of being ranked in the top 25 this week, coming in at No. 9 in both the Associated Press and USA Today/Coaches Top 25 Polls. South Carolina enters Thursday’s game ranked second in both polls, a position it has held the entire season.
South Carolina is one of three teams in the nation with an unblemished slate, entering the game with a 15-0 record. The Gamecocks’ roster is highlighted by Tiffany Mitchell, the two-time reigning SEC Player of the Year and 2015 Naismith Trophy Finalist. A First Team All-American in 2015, Mitchell is second on the team in points per game (14.9), assists (37) and steals (25).
South Carolina is led in scoring by All-American forward A’ja Wilson, who is posting 15.6 ppg. Wilson is ranked 18th in the nation in blocked shots per game, with 2.77, and double-doubles, with eight on the season.
Also notching eight double-doubles is Alaina Coates, who is third on the team in scoring with 12.9 points and leads the team in rebounding with 9.3 boards per contest. Notably, Coates leads the nation in field goal percentage with a .696 clip and is one of just 15 NCAA Division I women’s basketball players, including UK’s own Makayla Epps, to have recorded a triple-double this season.
Thursday’s meeting will be the 56th meeting between the two teams. UK holds a 33-22 advantage, including a 20-6 edge in Lexington. Kentucky has won 10 of the last 12 meetings at home between the two teams, including the last meeting on March 1, 2015, 67-56. Eight of the last 10 meetings have been decided by 10 points or less. Matthew Mitchell is 10-7 all-time against South Carolina.
Last year, UK split the series with USC, falling in a 68-60 decision on the road before upsetting the Gamecocks on Senior Day, 67-56. UK bounced back with a win at home in early March, handing USC its lone conference loss of the season. Makayla Epps scored 14 points in the game, while USC’s A’ja Wilson had 16 points and 19 rebounds. The Wildcats forced USC into 20 turnovers and scored 19 points off those turnovers.
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Single-game reserved tickets are $9 for all ages, while adult general admission single-game tickets are $8. For those aged 6-18 or 65-and-over, general admission costs are $5 per ticket. Children age five-and-under are admitted free in the general admission seating area, and UK students, faculty and staff are admitted free with valid identification.
For more information on parking around Memorial Coliseum and other game-day questions visit ukathleticsgameday
Photo by UK Athletics