(1) Gamecocks top Kentucky for 28th-straight win
COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — Aliyah Boston had 14 points and 14 rebounds as No. 1 South Carolina won its 28th straight game with an 87-69 victory over Kentucky on Thursday night.
The Gamecocks (10-0 Southeastern Conference) stayed perfect at 22-0 and now head for an NCAA Tournament title game rematch at No. 5 UConn on Sunday.
Boston, the reigning AP player of the year, extended her school mark with her 75th career double-double and moved within 11 of the SEC record of 86 games with a double-double held by LSU great Sylvia Fowles.
Things weren’t perfect for South Carolina, which fell behind early, then had its 15-point halftime lead cut to 54-48 midway through the third quarter.
Still, its dominant inside game — South Carolina outscored the Wildcats 62-14 in the paint — was more than enough to shut down Kentucky (10-12, 2-8), the last team to defeat the defending national champions at the SEC Tournament last March.
The Wildcats went on top 16-15 after a pair of baskets by Adebola Adeyeye.
That’s when South Carolina, fueled by its bench, took control with a 17-2 run. Ashlyn Watkins had three inside shots and Kamilla Cardoso scored four points during the surge.
The Wildcats used a 13-4 burst to start the third quarter to give South Carolina a few uncomfortable moments. But the Gamecocks got going once more with an 11-0 run to extend their margin.
Cardoso, the 6-foot-7 reserve, had 14 points and five of South Carolina’s 14 blocks. Defensive ace Brea Beal had 10 including both of the Gamecocks’ 3-pointers.
Robyn Benton had 24 points to lead Kentucky, which has lost three of its past four games.
Kentucky: The Wildcats are the not the same team that featured two-time SEC player of the year Rhyne Howard the past few seasons. They have 10 newcomers — and six freshmen — who are still learning how to play against the SEC’s top teams like South Carolina.
South Carolina: Forgive the Gamecocks if their focus wasn’t fully on this one at first with a big week ahead. In an eight-game span, South Carolina will face No. 5 UConn and No. 3 LSU, a pair of high-profile games could expose any flaw — or show how powerful the Gamecocks are in chasing a second straight NCAA crown.
South Carolina has opened 22-0 twice under coach Dawn Staley, in 2014-15 and the following year. Both runs ended against UConn. Next up for Gamecocks are the Huskies, although South Carolina has won three of the past four games over UConn including last April’s 64-49 victory to win the NCAA Tournament title.
Kentucky returns home to face Alabama on Feb. 9.
South Carolina heads to No. 5 UConn on Sunday.