(COLUMBIA, Sc.) – For the Kentucky Women’s Basketball team, starting off the New Year by plunging headfirst into the conference portion of your schedule could be a bit scary. Doing so by facing off against 4th-ranked South Carolina would seem even more daunting. To do it on the Gamecocks home court borders on insanity.
The 13th-ranked Wildcats (11-2, 0-1 SEC) did just that—and received due penalty for their error. Behind a raucous Colonial Life Arena crowd—enjoying its alcoholic sales debut—the Gamecocks (13-1) jumped out to a quick 9-2 lead and pulverized the outmatched Wildcats 99-72. A cold shooting start didn’t help Kentucky, but it was the disparity inside that ultimately doomed the Cats.
Aliyah Boston, South Carolina’s freshman sensation scored from underneath the basket at will as the Gamecocks jumped out to a 49-28 halftime lead. Kentucky, which was giving up only 48 points per game, had no answers. The points in the paint differential ballooned to 60-24 by game’s end. The rebounding disparity was nearly as bad at 40-20. I’ve seen this movie before. A big-bodied recruit arrives on the scene and terrorizes Kentucky for four consecutive years.
Boston finished with 14 points and six rebounds in a balanced attack, as five other Gamecock players joined her in double figures.
Rhyne Howard, who at times appeared to be playing one on five, led Kentucky with 28 points (8-17, 4-8 three-pointers). Transfer guard Chasity Patterson, in only her second game as a Wildcat, chipped in with 15 points.
“This is not a fatal blow by any means,” said a positive Coach Matthew Mitchell afterwards. “This is just an unpleasant night that we wished had gone better. We wanted to win, and we wanted to compete a little better. I thought the kids battled through some tough times tonight, and they’ll come back ready to go.”
Welcome to life on the road in the grueling SEC gauntlet. It’s not surprising that six of the fourteen teams are ranked in the AP Top 25. The good news is that Kentucky catches a bit of break in terms of its remaining schedule against those teams. Of the six ranked teams (No. 4 South Carolina, No. 11 Texas A&M, No. 15 Mississippi State, No. 20 Arkansas, and No. 22 Tennessee), the Cats will only face Arkansas on the road. The others will all come to Lexington.
That’s not a guarantee of success. But at least it’s not crazy either. Here’s hoping that BBN makes a concerted effort to rally behind Mitchell’s Cats. In order to finish atop the conference and gain that coveted high tournament seed, they’ll need every drop of support they can get.
I’m always envious and a bit perplexed by the amount of coverage generated for SEC Women’s Basketball outside of Lexington. Packed venues, media coverage, and talk show chatter pepper the landscape. I know much of it is a function of past success. Tennessee, South Carolina, Mississippi State, Georgia, and Texas A&M have all had dynasty-type runs. But the Bluegrass IS basketball country. John Calipari eats during a teleconference, and the media all go gaga. Yet, year after year, Kentucky Women’s Basketball gets nary a mention. I guess the only real remedy is to win a national championship (or eight).
Based on tonight’s performance, the Wildcats are still a ways away.