Jan 8, 2014 3:11 PM
Wildcats look for win No. 700 as they face fourth top-10 team of the season
LEXINGTON - The No. 9-10 Kentucky women's basketball team looks to get back on the winning track when it travels to Columbia, S.C., on Thursday, Jan. 9 to meet the South Carolina Gamecocks at 7 p.m. ET. The game will be broadcast live on the UK IMG Sports Radio Network with Neil Price or fans can follow Twitter updates on @UKHoopCats. Live streaming video is available on www.gamecocksonline.com/allaccess.
Tickets can be purchased at www.gamecocksonline.com or www.ticketmaster.com.
Kentucky (13-2, 1-1 Southeastern Conference), coming off an 83-73 loss to Florida on Sunday, leads the all-time series vs. the Gamecocks 31-19, but trails 9-14 in games played on the road. UK has won three of the last four meetings, splitting last year's two matchups by falling in Columbia, 55-50, and winning in Lexington, 78-74. The last five games vs. USC have been decided by eight points or less. The Cats went 3-2 in those games.
"It is always a really tough game," UK Hoops Coach Matthew Mitchell said. "It is probably one of the best teams that Coach (Dawn) Staley has had. It is very impressive to watch them and how hard they play. The have a very imposing front line, some of the biggest players in our league and toughest players in our league. It is a real challenge to play over there. They have a really good program and always play really hard and it is always a tough, tough battle for us. We will go over with a real emphasis on trying to get a good combination of hustle, toughness and fundamentals. You will need all of those when you are playing South Carolina."
Kentucky is looking for win No. 700 as it holds a 699-479 overall record (59.3) in 40 seasons of varsity women's basketball. Thursday marks UK's fourth matchup vs. a top-10 team. The Cats are 2-1 so far, defeating No. 4/3 Louisville and No. 9/9 Baylor and falling to No. 2/2 Duke.
The Wildcats have welcomed the return of senior forward DeNesha Stallworth (Richmond, Calif.) who after missing five games due to arthroscopic knee surgery on her left knee (Dec. 11), returned to action last Sunday vs. Florida. She scored four points and grabbed three rebounds in seven minutes.
"I was really encouraged with her after I watched the film (of the Florida game)," Mitchell said. "I think it was a really good seven minutes for her. I thought she was challenged physically in a lot of ways. Her conditioning, just basketball-wise, would have been difficult for her to go a long time in that game, but we got what we needed out of that game as it just relates to DeNesha and I think she left the game with a lot of confidence. She practiced really hard yesterday, made all the plays, did all the defensive fundamentals, all of our defensive footwork. So I think we will see her round into shape, however many games that takes her to get back. But I would say for the bulk of this SEC schedule, I think we'll have her ready to go. It'll be a tough game Thursday. They are extremely big in the post and extremely physical and your physical conditioning will be a factor in this game. So still, we'll practice hard every day with her and we'll let her play as hard as she can play. She's very anxious to play, so I see nothing but blue skies ahead as far as it relates for us to her coming back from her injury."
Stallworth, UK's leading scorer and third-leading rebounder, is an All-America candidate and on the watch lists for all the major national Player of the Year awards, including the Naismith Trophy, the Wade Trophy, Senior CLASS Award and the John R. Wooden Award. She also is one of four players averaging in double digits this season. She leads the way with 13.2 points per game, while junior point guard Jennifer O'Neill (Bronx, N.Y.) narrowly follows with 13.1 points per game. Senior guard Kastine Evans (Salem, Conn.) is averaging 11.6 and senior forward Samarie Walker (West Carrollton, Ohio) averages 10.4 points per game apiece to go along with a team-high 9.7 rebounds per game. Junior guard Bria Goss (Indianapolis), who averages 9.9 points per game, ranks 18th nationally and leads the SEC in free-throw shooting percentage, hitting 89.4 percent (42-of-47).
Overall, South Carolina is 14-1 on the season, 2-0 in the SEC after wins vs. Arkansas (55-51) and Vanderbilt (76-66). The Gamecocks, led by head coach Dawn Staley, are 9-0 at home and are currently lead the SEC in field goal percentage, shooting 48.9 percent.
Sophomore guard Tiffany Mitchell leads the team in scoring, assists and steals at 15.4 points, 3.5 assists and 2.4 steals per game, while also pulling down 4.9 rebounds per game. Junior forward Aleighsa Welch is one of three other Gamecocks averaging double figures with 13.7 points and 7.0 rebounds per game. Freshman and 6-foot-4 center Alaina Coates scores 12.4 points per game to go with a team-leading 7.7 rebounds per contest. Junior and 6-4 center Elem Ibiam rounds out the double-digit scorers with 10.2 points per game.