South Carolinas first week in nine years as a ranked team did not end well.
After suffering a heartbreaking loss at LSU on Thursday, the No. 24 Gamecocks squandered a nine-point, second-half lead and fell 66-58 to No. 9 Kentucky at Colonial Life Arena on Sunday afternoon.
USC was looking to beat a top-10 team for the first time since knocking off No. 6 Vanderbilt in 2002.
But the Gamecocks turned the ball over 28 times, a season-high, and shot less than 50 percent from the free throw line (12-for-25) to lose their second straight after an eight-game winning streak.
The Gamecocks (14-4, 3-2 SEC) have turned the ball over 53 times in the past two games.
USC coach Dawn Staley said the message for her team was simple: We keep turning the page.
We played two of the top teams in this conference and played them to single-digit games, Staley said. I think they will consider our games very good competitive games. We put ourselves in position to where we should win these games. We were right there, but they outplayed us the last three minutes of the game.
The contest matched the highest-scoring team in the SEC (Kentucky) against the leagues best defensive team (USC), and the games tempo seemed to be in the Gamecocks favor. The game was physical on both ends, but the Wildcats matched USCs intensity on defense with a full-court press. When the Gamecocks were able to get into their half-court offense, there often was fewer than 15 seconds remaining on the shot clock.
They were very active and they subbed a lot of players, so they kept fresh legs on the floor and were able to tire me out, USC point guard Ieasia Walker said. They were very active with their feet and hands.
The Gamecocks held the Wildcats leading scorer, Adia Mathies, to eight points, nine below her average, and second-leading scorer Bria Goss scored three points, also nine below her average. Keyla Snowden came off the bench to score 15 points for Kentucky (16-2, 5-0).
South Carolina led 29-28 at the half after Sancheon White hit a 3-pointer with two seconds remaining. The Gamecocks expanded that lead in the first 10 minutes of the second half, limiting their turnovers and converting their easy looks.
Walker, who led USC with 14 points, scored six points and Ashley Bruner added five in a 16-8 run that gave the Gamecocks their biggest lead at 45-36.
But the Wildcats used their pressure defense to go on a 9-0 run in less than two minutes. The Gamecocks turned it over three times in that stretch, setting the table for the rest of the game.
In the final 10 minutes, USC turned it over nine times and went 4-for-11 from the free throw line. Kentucky held a 32-11 advantage on points off turnovers.
Turnovers killed us, Staley said. Anytime we were in position, where we had (Kentucky) in a half-court set, our defense held up. But any time we gave them uncontested shots because of our turnovers, it hurt us. Thirty-two of their 66 points came off our turnovers. We outrebounded them and went to the free throw line more but (missed) free throws and turnovers killed us.
South Carolinas leading scorer, Markeisha Grant, tied her season-low with 15 minutes and did not score for the first time this season. LaKeisha Sutton and Walker combined for 15 turnovers, and Bruner added six. USC had 19 offensive rebounds and outrebounded the Wildcats 40-30 but had only 20 second-chance points.
The Gamecocks will be on the road for the next two games beginning at Auburn on Thursday.
Percentages: FG .424, FT .778. 3-Point Goals: 2-13, .154 (Evans 1-1, Snowden 1-5, Goss 0-1, Conwright 0-1, Pinkett 0-1, Smith 0-4). Team Rebounds: 3. Blocked Shots: 8 (Mathies 3, Bishop 3, Evans, Smith). Turnovers: 18 (Smith 5, Mathies 3, Evans 2, Bishop 2, Goss, Pinkett, Walker, Snowden, Henderson). Steals: 13 (Snowden 3, Mathies 3, Walker 2, Goss 2, Bishop, Smith, Evans). Technical Fouls: None.
Percentages: FG .385, FT .500. 3-Point Goals: 6-15, .400 (Walker 3-6, White 2-2, Roy 1-4, Sutton 0-1, Grant 0-2). Team Rebounds: 5. Blocked Shots: 5 (Stephens 2, Bruner, Walker, Sutton). Turnovers: 29 (Sutton 8, Walker 7, Bruner 6, Grant 3, Welch 3, White). Steals: 10 (Walker 3, White 2, Sutton 2, Bruner 2, Grant). Technical Fouls: None. A: 4,655. Officials: Eric J. Brewton, Kelly Johnson, Kevin Pethtel.