COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) – Aleighsa Welch had 16 points and 14 rebounds, and freshman Alaina Coates added 10 points and 17 rebounds to lead No. 10 South Carolina to a 68-59 win over No. 9 Kentucky on Thursday night.
Tiffany Mitchell scored 17 points and the Gamecocks (15-1, 3-0 Southeastern Conference) held the SEC’s highest-scoring team 33 points below its average. The Wildcats shot just 32 percent, and South Carolina set a school record with 14 blocked shots – six by Elem Ibiam.
Kentucky (13-3, 1-2) made five of its first seven shots as South Carolina initially struggled to stop the Wildcats inside. But the Gamecocks quickly figured things out and led by as many as 22 points in the second half.
The Wildcats cut the lead to eight before Coates’ layup with 1:03 left gave her a fifth double-double in 16 games.
South Carolina made a statement in its first game between top 10 teams in almost 12 years. For long stretches of the game the Wildcats looked hesitant, especially inside. When the Gamecocks weren’t blocking shots, Kentucky was tentative and off target. The Wildcats missed 19 shots in the lane.
The Gamecocks trailed 10-4 early, but went on a 50-22 run over the next 27 minutes. They had 10 more rebounds than Kentucky, which came into the game third in the SEC in rebounding margin, averaging 8.5 more boards than its opponents.
The Wildcats twice went almost 4 minutes in the second half without a point. Kentucky did make a run, cutting South Carolina’s lead to 59-51 with 3:04 to go. But Tiffany Mitchell made two free throws and 40 seconds later stole the ball from Thompson and found Olivia Gaines for a wide-open layup that put the Gamecocks ahead 63-51 with 1:54 left.
South Carolina coach Dawn Staley is 3-4 against top 10 teams, with two of those wins coming against Kentucky.
DeNesha Stallworth added 11 points for the Wildcats.